vegan iron

How to Satisfy Iron Needs on a Vegan Diet

You can get plenty of iron on a vegan diet. This nutrient nevertheless deserves your attention because many people, especially women of reproductive age, come up short. Globally, nearly one in four people are anemic, with iron deficiency being the chief culprit behind this condition.

Vegans and Iron Deficiency

Iron is required to build the hemoglobin proteins carried within red blood cells. People who don’t consume enough iron can develop anemia, which typically causes chronic tiredness and low-energy. If untreated, this deficiency can spiral into a debilitating acute anemia that can cause severe health problems.

Iron is abundant in the plant kingdom, and it’s easy to obtain plenty on a well-planned vegan diet. Most vegans will never have to worry about their status as long as they eat a varied diet that includes plenty of iron-rich foods. But some people struggle to maintain adequate iron levels, even if they consume substantial amounts of this nutrient. A basic blood test will reveal whether you’re deficient.

Vegans should also note that a severe B12 or folate deficiency can produce an especially dangerous form of anemia that’s unrelated to iron intake. Vegans must generally take B12 supplements, since this nutrient isn’t naturally present in plant-based foods.

How to Improve Your Iron Status

If you are suffer from 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 the list in the following section).
  • Vitamin C boosts iron absorption, so include a food rich in this vitamin when eating iron-rich meals. You’ll get a big dose of vitamin C by consuming orange juice, broccoli, strawberries, or red peppers.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine with meals
  • Cook meals in a cast iron skillet, especially tomato sauce or any food seasoned with some lemon juice, as these acidic foods absorb some of the skillet’s iron.
  • Take a vegan iron supplement.

Iron-Rich Vegan Foods

A wide assortment of vegan foods contain substantial amounts of iron per serving.

it’s true that the form of iron found in meat (heme iron) is better absorbed than plant-based iron. But that distinction isn’t important for most people. 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.”

Is Taking an Iron Supplement Prudent?

There are many vegan iron supplements on the market, but you shouldn’t take one without good reason. Over-consumption of iron can cause elevated blood-iron levels, which can be toxic, since the body lacks the ability to quickly rid itself of excessive iron. That can lead to a dangerous condition called hemochromatosis. So before taking iron supplements, ask for a blood panel to determine your iron levels and then seek out your doctor’s advice.

For further coverage about how to satisfy your iron requirements on a vegan diet, see, as well as the books Vegan for Life and Vegan for Her. As always, consult your doctor or nutritionist with any health concerns.

For further reading, please see our guides to vegan nutrition and vegan supplements.
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