Iron plays an important role in the human body, yet many people suffer from iron deficiency. It is important for vegetarians to become familiar with this mineral and to understand how they can get the recommended daily allowance from non-meat sources. It is also important to understand what you must do to ensure your body actually absorbs the iron from these sources.
Iron is essential for making hemoglobin, a substance in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to all the cells in your body. If you don’t get enough iron, your blood may not be able to carry enough oxygen to your cells. The resulting condition is called iron-deficiency anemia. People with anemia are often tired, weak, short of breath, and pale.
Dietary iron is consumed in two forms; “heme” and “non-heme”. We get heme iron from animal products such as red meat, fish and poultry while non-heme iron comes from plant-based foods such as leafy greens, fruits and nuts. Because heme iron is derived from animal hemoglobin and muscle tissue, it is more easily absorbed by our bodies. This does not necessarily mean we do not get enough iron from vegetarian foods, but it does mean that those who get their iron form non-heme sources should plan properly so that they will not be at risk of developing iron deficiency.
Eating foods rich in Vitamin C is a great way to positively affect the absorption of iron in your body. Another interesting way to boost iron content of foods is by cooking your foods in an iron skillet. However, more research is needed to find how much iron is actually absorbed from using this cooking method.
The recommended daily allowance of iron for vegetarians is 14 mg/day for adult men and for post-menopausal women and 33 mg/day for pre-menopausal women. It is not necessary to overdue iron intake as too much iron can cause its own side effects. It is always recommended that you consult your doctor or registered dietitian before embarking on any eating plan.
The following list provides some ideas on where you can find non-meat sources of iron. This is not an exhaustive list but will get you started down the path to better iron intake.
Non Meat Sources of Iron:
- ½ cup cooked soybeans: 4.4 mg
- ½ cup of raisins 1.6 mg
- ¼ cup of sunflower seeds 1.2 mg
- ¼ cup of almonds 1.5 mg
- ¼ cup of cashews 2.1 mg
- ½ cup cooked lentils 3.3 mg
- ½ cup of fresh cooked spinach 3.2 mg
- ½ cup of cooked chickpeas 2.4 mg
- ¾ cup of prune juice 2.3 mg
- ½ cup cooked lima beans 2.2 mg
- 1 ounce roasted pumpkin seeds: 4.2 mg
- 4 oz of tofu 6.0 mg
- 1 cup of Tempeh 4.8 mg
- 1 cup of cooked black beans 3.6 mg
- 1 cup of cooked kidney beans 3.0 mg
- 1 large potato 3.2 mg
- 1 veggie hotdog 2.7 mg
- 1 veggie burger patty 1.4 mg
- 1 cup of cooked brussel sprouts 1.9 mg
- 1 cup of cooked broccoli 1.1 mg
Sources: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference as well as some manufacturer information.