Eating a plant-based diet is often wonderful for your health. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other plants are full of essential nutrients and fiber.
However, some nutrients are easier to get from plants than others. Iron, a mineral that is essential to a healthy lifestyle, is readily available in meat, poultry, and seafood. Because of this, some vegetarians, vegans, and individuals who eat a primarily plant-based diet struggle to eat enough iron.
If that’s you, don’t worry. Eating enough iron takes some thought, but isn’t impossible.
Why iron matters
Iron is a mineral that carries the oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body. Iron helps cells produce energy, and it also removes carbon dioxide. Finally, iron helps children and adolescents develop properly. When your iron levels are too low, you develop iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency can cause:
- Pale skin and nails
Everybody needs iron. However, pregnant women and adolescent girls often don’t get the amount that they need. Different people have different iron needs depending on their age and gender. Adult men and women above the age of 50 should have 8mg of iron daily. However, women ages 18 to 50 should consume 18mg every day.
- Legumes – Consider eating beans and lentils. Soybeans contain 8.8 mg per cup, lentils contain 6.6mg per cup when cooked, and other beans have similar iron content.
- Leafy Vegetables – Spinach, kale, and other greens contain between 2.5-6.4 mg of iron per cooked cup.
- Potatoes – One large potato contains about 3.2 mg of iron. Be sure to eat the peel though. That’s where most of the iron is located!
- Olives – Olives contain around 3.3 mg of iron per 100 grams.
- Beets – Beets contain 1.1 mg of iron per cooked cup.
Nuts, oats, quinoa, and other grains also contain iron, as do other fruits and vegetables.
How to absorb iron
There are two main sources of iron: heme and nonheme. Meat products contain both types, but plants only contain nonheme iron. Although your body can use both types of iron, it absorbs heme iron much easier.
Luckily, individuals with plant-based diets can help absorption by eating their iron sources with foods full of vitamin C. The vitamin helps your body release more of the nonheme iron. Try pairing your iron sources with:
- Bell peppers
- Red cabbage
- Sweet potatoes
Additionally, some studies suggest that eating iron throughout the day helps you absorb more of it. Rather than eating all of your iron in one meal, make sure you’re eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
Make iron absorption easier for you. Try tracking your food intake. Calculate the amount of iron that you eat on an average day, and adjust your food choices from there.
Some people, especially those with anemia, choose to take an iron supplement. Although many individuals prefer to reach their iron goals through food alone, supplements can help you if you are struggling. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
Getting enough iron on a plant-based diet takes thought and a bit of work. However, doing so will make you a healthier individual. Plus, you might find some fresh, tasty meals along the way.
At Spoons Soups, Salads and Sandwiches, our meals are made with thoughtful, fresh ingredients. Give one a try. You won’t be disappointed! Visit our menu to learn what we’re serving today.