Iron is an essential nutrient required to build hemoglobin molecules that are present in red blood cells. People who don’t consume enough iron develop anemia, and often feel chronically tired and low-energy. Iron is abundant in the plant kingdom and it’s easy to obtain through a vegan diet. Most vegans will never have to worry about their iron intake as long as they are eating a varied diet, but some people (usually women) struggle to maintain adequate iron levels. You can obtain your iron level through a basic blood test.
If you are confronting anemia, are pregnant, or aren’t eating a diverse diet, here are some ways to boost your iron levels:
- Eat more iron-rich plant foods (See list below)
- Include a source of Vitamin C with iron-rich meals. Food rich in vitamin C include orange juice, broccoli, strawberries, and red peppers.
- Avoid drinking caffeine with meals
- Cook meals in a cast iron skillet
- Take a vegan iron supplement
Vegan foods that are high in Iron:
- Blackstrap molasses
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fortified foods such as cereal or soymilk
Iron is also available in supplement form, and there are many vegan varieties on the market. Eating foods with vitamin C at the same time as iron-rich foods can increase iron absorption. According to Registered Dietitian Jack Norris, “if you are absorbing enough iron (as most vegetarians are), the iron from plants works just as well as the iron from meat.”
It should also be noted that overconsumption of iron can cause elevated blood-iron levels, which can be toxic, as the body lacks the ability to quickly excrete excessive iron.
As always, consult your doctor or nutritionist with any health concerns. You can also find more resources from experts at JackNorrisRD.com and in the books Vegan for Life and Vegan for Her.