When someone first makes changes in their diet it can be a bit overwhelming. A common concern associated with starting a vegan or plant-based diet is getting all of the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to thrive. This can be worrisome for those who aren’t completely changing their lifestyles too but are instead adding in more plant-based foods.
Iron is one of the essential nutrients a person may find themselves concerned about. This vital mineral helps the body grow and develop. Iron makes proteins that carry oxygen where it needs to go throughout the body, and it makes hormones too. The body needs iron to function properly, so everyone must get plenty of it.
Before we get into this list of vegan iron sources and iron-rich vegetarian foods, there is some information that is beneficial to know.
How much iron do you need?
The amount of iron a person needs to consume is determined by the diet a person follows, as well as factors like age and sex. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, vegetarians who skip meat, poultry, or seafood need nearly double the number of iron others need. This is because the body does not absorb non-heme iron in plant foods as well as it does heme iron from animal foods.
Heme iron comes from foods like meat, poultry, seafood, and fish. Non-heme iron is found in nuts, seeds, grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Beyond this list of vegan iron sources, non-heme iron can also be found in eggs, dairy, and other foods.
While a licensed professional would be able to give you a clear idea of exactly how much iron you need, health institutes often list their recommendations too. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, adult men between the ages of 19 and 50 need 8 mg of iron, and adult women need 18 mg. Adults 51 and older need 8 mg.
What are some examples of vegan iron sources?
Tofu is made using soybeans that are loaded with iron. According to the USDA, 100 g of tofu contains 1.69 mg of iron. Tofu is also a great source of protein and other nutrients.
The best thing about tofu is that it can be used in countless ways. You can turn it into smoothies, desserts, sauces, scrambles, and so much more. It can also be used as a meat substitute in a variety of dishes, and take on any flavor you are hoping for with the right combination of spices and seasonings.
You could try vegan fried rice (the peas have iron too), or crispy baked garlic tofu paired with your favorite rice. Other tasty options include a tofu scramble, peanut tofu buddha bowl, chocolate pudding pie, or a banana peanut butter smoothie. There are seemingly endless recipes at your fingertips all with unique ways of using tofu.
The USDA states that a cup of tempeh contains nearly 4.5 mg of iron. According to Healthline, the iron found in a 3-ounce serving of tempeh makes up 12% of the recommended daily intake. Tempeh is packed full of protein and other nutrients too.
Tempeh is not as versatile as tofu, but there are still many ways to incorporate this food into your diet. Tempeh bolognese, marinated peanut tempeh, spicy tempeh stuffed peppers, and sweet and spicy tempeh bowls are just some of the tasty options out there. Tempeh can make an excellent meat replacement, so feel free to get creative with how you incorporate this food.
There are brown lentils, green lentils, red lentils, yellow lentils, and black lentils, among others. No matter which one you prefer, you can expect lots of iron packed inside.
According to Cooking Light, one-half cup of uncooked red or yellow lentils provides 6 mg of iron. One-half cup of uncooked brown or green lentils is a little lower, landing closer to 4 mg of iron. Black lentils have the most, providing 8 mg of iron per one-half cup. In addition to the iron found in lentils, they contain protein, fiber, complex carbs, and other nutrients.
If you are looking to add more black lentil dishes to your diet, you might try this black lentil curry or cumin roasted cauliflower with black lentils. Other lentil meals include lentil enchiladas, lentil meatloaf, or lentil sloppy joes. With the large variety of different types of lentils, this is another ingredient that can be incorporated into a large number of tasty recipes.
Nuts might be small, but they can pack a mighty punch. Cashews, almonds, pine nuts, and other nuts all contain a decent amount of non-heme iron. According to the USDA, 100g of cashews contain 6.68 mg of iron, 100g of almonds provide 4.8 mg of iron, and 100g of pine nuts contain 5.53 mg of iron.
It is not recommended to roast nuts if you are eating them purely for nutritious reasons. This can take away from the nutrients you get from enjoying them raw. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them in some delicious recipes.
Cashews can be used in creamy dishes like fettuccine alfredo or turned into other treats like these no-bake energy bars. Raw almonds can be added to your favorite salad or granola. This granola is a great option as it incorporates other iron-rich vegetarian foods.
Nut butter is a simple way to add these vegan iron sources to your meals. Simply spread some across a slice of bread or use it as a dip with some apple slices. If you want to enjoy your nuts in a buttery consistency, try natural options that skip the additives.
Just like nuts, seeds contain lots of nutrients like fiber, calcium, protein, and of course iron. There are many types of seeds such as flaxseeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and more. According to the USDA:
- 100g of flaxseeds contain 5.73 mg of iron
- 100g of hemp seeds provide 7.95 mg of iron
- 100g of sesame seeds contains 14.6 mg of iron
- 100g of pumpkin seeds contain 8.93 mg of iron
- 100g of chia seeds contain 7.72 mg of iron
Seeds are one of many iron-rich vegetarian foods that are simple to add to meals. You can get plenty of iron from seeds, no matter which seeds you decide to add to your diet. You can add seeds to granola or throw them on as a topping on salads and other dishes. Specific dishes and sauces include sunflower seed pesto, pumpkin spice chia pudding, strawberry chia jam, and power bread.
6. Leafy greens
There is a wide variety of leafy greens in the world, and they are all packed full of nutrients. These include spinach and kale. According to the USDA, spinach contains 2.71 mg of iron per 100g, and 100g of kale provides 1.6 mg of iron. This might not sound like much but it is more iron than what is often found in non-vegan foods.
Leafy greens are great because they are easy to add to recipes you already love. Spinach works great in pasta, dips, or sandwiches. Kale easily blends into many curries, stir-frys, or salads. This green breakfast smoothie, spinach and chickpea curry, kale and mushroom gratin, and quinoa and kale veggie quesadillas are all examples of recipes that incorporate leafy greens.
Oats are a simple source of nutrients like iron, protein, zinc, fiber, and more. Other whole grains like amaranth are great sources of iron too, but oats seem to be the easiest to add to any diet or lifestyle. According to the USDA, 100g of oats contain 4.25 mg of iron.
The easiest way to add in oats is to enjoy a nice bowl of oatmeal or overnight oats for breakfast. You can also add them to any granola recipe. Other recipes include this Santa Fe black bean burger, banana oatmeal cookies, oatmeal pancakes, and vegan blueberry banana oat bread.
It does not have to be challenging to get iron in vegan food.
There are plenty of other iron-rich vegetarian foods, such as tomato paste, coconut milk, and prune juice. The list of plant-based and vegan iron sources is vast. The only issue one might run into is not understanding the difference between heme and non-heme iron. Knowing how the body absorbs heme and non-heme iron differently is a key part of ensuring you consume the right amount for your needs. You can rest easy knowing that it is not hard to find iron in vegan food, but it is important to control your diet in a way that works for you.