Reviewed by: Erica An, BNutr&Diet, APD
If you’ve recently become vegetarian, or you’re thinking about it but are worrying about missing out on the iron that comes from meat there are a lot of ways to avoid the pitfalls of becoming iron deficient.
What is Iron anyway?
Iron is essential to our bodies, primarily as it is used by red blood cells. In essence, it is a crucial part of hemoglobin, which delivers oxygen to all of your body’s cells – so it’s not to be taken lightly! In fact according to the World Health Organisation, iron is unfortunately the most widely spread mineral deficiency – so the pitfalls of iron deficiency aren’t isolated to vegetarians and vegans.
There are two types of iron:
Heme Iron: Which is only found in meat products, mainly red meat and is easily absorbed into the body.
Non-Heme Iron: Most dietary iron falls into this category and is found in meat and plants.
How to Ensure You Get Enough Iron
Eat Foods that Assist Absorption
Believe it or not, Vitamin C when combined with iron dense foods is shown to help absorption in your body by up to 2 to 3 times.
Next time you’re cooking up some iron dense foods consider pairing it with one of these vitamin C rich bad boys:
- Citrus Fruits
Vitamin A rich food and Beta-Carotene are also known to aid absorption. These food include:
- Red peppers
Avoid These Inhibitors
Whilst the vitamin C rich foods aid iron absorption, other foods inhibit absorption:
- Teas, red wine, and coffee all fall into the category of inhibitors. Whilst these have their own string of benefits, vegetarians should avoid consuming these at meal times.
- Calcium is great for bones, not so great for iron absorption. Keep taking your supplements if you need them, just avoid taking them at the same time that you’re eating iron rich foods
- Zinc – another amazing supplement, just best taken at a time when you aren’t eating iron rich foods.
The Golden Ticket Foods
And of course, if you’re cutting meat out of your diet, you need to replace it with something. The following are a list of foods high in iron. It’s by no means extensive and there are many other foods out there that you can incorporate into your diet, but this should set you up well:
- Tofu, Tempeh, and Soybeans: So much so, soybeans contain 8.8mg of iron per cup, and tofu or tempeh has 3-3.6mg per 170g
- Lentils: 6.6mg per cup of cooked lentils
- Chickpeas, Kidney Beans, and Black-eyed beans.
- Pumpkin seeds, Sesame, Hemp and Flaxseeds
- Cashew, Pinenuts, Pistachios and almonds: Keep in mind, blanching nuts may damage nutritional properties. Choose 100% natural varieties – that way you also avoid added oils, sugars and salts
- Dark leafy green vegetables: broccoli, spinach, kale, watercress, cabbage
- Tomato paste: Raw tomatoes contain very little iron, but when they are concentrated or dried, they offer a much greater amount.
- Potatoes: Keep the skin on – that’s where all the good stuff is!
- Prune juice.
- Amaranth, Oats, Spelt, and Quinoa
- Coconut milk, Dark Chocolate
- Dried Thyme
Our 12WBT Vegetarian meal plan option contains all of this good stuff! Learn more here.
Doctor Knows Best
Of course, if you do suspect that your body isn’t receiving enough iron, your first point of call should be a doctor and an accredited dietician who will be able to correctly diagnose your condition and help you get the right course of action, as it may not simply be caused by a change in diet. Abnormally low levels of red blood cells from iron deficiency can lead to unpleasant signs such as poor health, concentration and work productivity, which of course no one wants. Things to look out for are:
- Unusual tiredness
- Headaches and dizziness
- Dry and damaged hair and skin
- Frequent infections
Also Read: This is what a 12WBT Dietician eats in a day