Add these 5 delicious veggie iron-rich foods to your diet to make sure you meet your daily needs!
Iron is one of the essential nutrients, which means it is important to choose food sources with viable iron. Without sources of iron, the body cannot synthesize it itself.
When we hear iron, we often think of animal sources first rather than vegetable sources. In addition, iron is one of the most common vegan nutritional deficiencies that we see as nutritionists.
Fortunately, there are many ways we can get iron from a plant-based diet alone.
Plant-based iron versus iron in meat
Before we talk about food sources, there is one crucial difference between vegetable and animal iron that we need to discuss.
First, we have plant-based iron (also known as non-heme iron or iron (III)). Plant-based iron is a little more difficult for the body to absorb and use, but consumption with vitamin C makes it easier for the body to absorb. This form of iron is also found in iron-fortified foods such as cereals and fortified bread.
Then there is animal-based iron (also known as heme iron or iron). Because this form of iron isn't that difficult to use, the addition of vitamin C is not required.
Moral of the story: If you are on a plant-based diet, add vitamin C to your meals whenever you can! You can do this with a pinch of lemon, some paprika, a slice of orange, or even a sweet potato.
The vitamin C promotes the optimal absorption of the vegetable iron in order to avoid significant deficiencies.
Why is iron intake important?
Iron has a hand in some important functions throughout the body.
It is primarily known for its role in the formation of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to various other parts of the body. It is also involved in the production of myoglobin, a protein that specifically supplies oxygen to muscles (1).
Iron is even involved in hormone production, physical growth, cell function, and neurological development (2).
How much iron do you need
For the average healthy person, personal iron needs depend on both your age and gender. You can use the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) provided by the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements as a reference (see below).
It is important to note that these numbers may need to be adjusted slightly as these guidelines are set for the average healthy person. If you have any nutritional issues or disease states, you may need to adjust them slightly.
Be sure to speak to your GP, as well as your registered dietitian, to determine if you need to adapt these recommendations to your specific needs.
How do you know if you have a deficiency?
There are a few symptoms to look out for if you think you are iron deficient.
If you don't consume enough iron, you may feel low on energy, dizzy, breathless, or find your skin tone paler than your usual skin tone. You may also experience changes in your menstrual cycle, headaches, palpitations, or really dry, brittle hair.
Your skin and nails can also be dry or brittle, and you may experience restless legs, an increase in food cravings such as strange foods like chalk or ice cream, a more frequent feeling of cold, and an increase in anxiety.
Once diagnosed, iron deficiency can lead to iron deficiency anemia.
5 vegetarian foods rich in iron
Below are five vegetarian iron-rich foods to add to your diet today! While you can also use an iron supplement to increase your intake, these supplements are often associated with symptoms of constipation and nausea.
Start your diet and consult a nutritionist if you wonder whether or not a supplement is right for you.
1. Nuts and seeds
While nuts and seeds are great sources of vegetable iron, there are some specific varieties that contain higher levels than others.
Hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, macadamia nuts, cashews, and pine nuts are good examples of this.
Nuts and seeds can be consumed in different ways and in different ways! From adding it to your afternoon salad, to adding nut or seed butter as a snack with non-starchy vegetables or your favorite crackers, you can add them to almost any type of meal.
Our cashew cheese is one of my favorite examples of this!
2. Beans & Legumes
Beans and legumes are good staples for a plant-based diet. Not only because of their protein content, but also because of their iron content.
Soybeans, chickpeas, white beans, white beans, lentils, and black-eyed peas are good examples of beans that you can use for their iron content.
Don't forget – tofu is also made from soybeans, which makes it a great option too. Beans and legumes can be placed in bowls, as a side dish or mixed into a bean salad.
3. Whole grains
Grains that have been minimally processed and tactfully left in place are best for their iron content. Quinoa, amaranth, spelled, and oats are good examples of this!
Whole grains taste great in grain shells, oatmeal, and even in some baked goods.
An important note: both whole grains and legumes contain so-called phytates, which have been shown to block your body's iron absorption. Just make sure you include a variety of foods with iron, and not just whole grains, beans, and legumes, and add some vitamin C wherever you can to aid absorption.
4. Sun-dried tomatoes
When dried, tomatoes have a much higher iron concentration than when they are raw. For example, a cup of sun-dried tomatoes contains 4.9 mg of iron, while a cup of raw tomatoes contains only 0.4 mg (3, 4).
Our simple sun-dried tomato noodles are a delicious way to add more of them to your diet!
5. Leaf vegetables
The list of health benefits of leafy vegetables seems to know no limit!
Swiss chard, kale, and spinach are good examples of iron with leafy greens. Add some of these to your avocado toast, breakfast smoothie, or simply in a salad. You can cook them if you prefer the softer texture, or keep them raw for a little more crunch!
If you're looking for a fun new recipe, our Spinach and Basil Pesto is super versatile and easy to make. Add it to your sandwiches as a spread, your salads as a dressing or your pasta as a sauce!
Put it into practice
Now all you have to do is incorporate these foods into your meals! Tag us on Instagram by doing @nutritionstripped @nutritionstrippederica.
We can't wait to see how it goes!