12 Top Vegan Iron Sources

If you are a vegan, what is the first argument you hear from meat-eating advocates? Well the sarcastic ones might say something about plants having feelings too, but the most popular rebuttal usually has something to do with iron. And yes iron is an essential mineral because it contributes to the production of blood cells. The human body needs iron to make the oxygen-carrying proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin. But just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you’re going to wither away with anemia.

However, anemia is not something to be taken lightly. (Although I realize I just did.) The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world. As many as 80 percent of the world’s population may be iron deficient, while 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia. The human body stores some iron to replace any that is lost. However, low iron levels over a long period of time can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms include lack of energy, shortness of breath, headache, irritability, dizziness, or weight loss.

So here’s the 411 on iron: how much you need, where you can get it, and tips to maximize its absorption.

VeganIron

Iron Requirements

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following:

Infants and children
Younger than 6 months: 0.27 milligrams per day (mg/day)
7 months to 1 year: 11 mg/day
1 to 3 years: 7 mg/day
4 to 8 years: 10 mg/day

Males
9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
Age 19 and older: 8 mg/day

Females
9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
51 and older: 8 mg/day

Non-animal iron sources:

Eating red meat and organ meat are the most efficient ways to get iron, but for vegans, obviously, that’s not going to happen. Here are 12 plant-based foods with some of the highest iron levels:

Tofu (1/2 cup): 6.6 mg
Spirulina (1 tsp): 5 mg
Cooked soybeans (1/2 cup): 4.4 mg
Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce): 4.2 mg
Quinoa (4 ounces): 4 mg
Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp): 4 mg
Tomato paste (4 ounces): 3.9 mg
White beans (1/2 cup) 3.9 mg
Dried apricots (1 cup): 3.5 mg
Cooked spinach (1/2 cup): 3.2 mg
Dried peaches (6 halves): 3.1 mg
Prune juice (8 ounces): 3 mg
Lentils (4 ounces): 3 mg
Peas (1 cup): 2.1 mg

Tips to get the most iron out of your food:

  • Eat iron-rich foods along with foods that contain vitamin C, which helps the body absorb the iron.
  • Tea and coffee contains compounds called polyphenols, which can bind with iron making it harder for our bodies to absorb it.
  • Calcium also hinders the absorption of iron; avoid high-calcium foods for a half hour before or after eating iron-rich foods.
  • Cook in iron pots. The acid in foods seems to pull some of the iron out of the cast-iron pots. Simmering acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, in an iron pot can increase the iron content of the brew more than ten-fold. Cooking foods containing other acids, such as vinegar, red wine, lemon or lime juice, in an iron pot can also increase the iron content of the final mixture.

Do you have iron sources that you depend on not mentioned here? Share them with us in the comment field!

Related:
Vegan Sources of Vitamins & Minerals
21 Sources of Protein for Vegetarians
25 Vegan Sources of Calcium

705 comments

Veronica D
Veronica D9 hours ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica D
Veronica D9 hours ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica D
Veronica D9 hours ago

Thank you so very much.

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heather g
heather g3 days ago

Quote: "Of all the countries in the world, only three backwaters still use the archaic Imperial system of weights and measures:
Liberia (in West Africa)
Myanmar (a.k.a. “the country formerly known as Burma”)


the United States of America
I say we let them get some decent governments first, then worry about getting them on the metric system."
Hope this quote helped you to put this anomaly int perspective.

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen4 days ago

Thank you

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen4 days ago

Thank you

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Jason W
J W W8 days ago

K M., they aren't equivalent measures. X *Ounces* (imperial) of food gives X *mg* (metric) of iron. Most of the world has not used metric for a long time now, and the units are not particularly helpful to many potential readers; Renata B. is right to point it out - if it potentially just adds noise to the already huge quantities of misleading, downright incorrect, or at best, simply not useful things people have to filter through to get the information that they need to live a healthy life, it may require a little more thought.

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K M
K M11 days ago

Thank you for an interesting article. It's good to know more of the many sources of iron.

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K M
K M11 days ago

To Renata B., it's not "mad" or "weird" to have equivalent measures side by side. It helps to learn them when you see them together.

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William C
William C12 days ago

Thanks.

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