High-iron Vegan Foods

Iron For Vegans

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A lack of iron can lead to deficiency! So what high-iron vegans foods will help keep levels stable, read more for Madeline Calfas, RN and Nat. Nutritionist, tips and tricks!

Iron is an essential nutrient that we all need to keep our bodies functioning. Ensuring we have enough iron is crucial — yet it can be challenging for those following a vegan diet.

This is largely due to the fact that the iron found in animal flesh is haem iron, which is readily absorbed by the human body upon consumption. Conversely, the iron found in plant-based foods is non-haem, so a lot less of the iron is absorbed. This means that vegans can be at a greater risk of developing iron deficiency simply as it’s harder for them to ensure they have adequate iron absorption from their diet alone.

“As vegans don’t consume any animal product, they need to rely on either supplementation or plant foods that have iron,” Madeline Calfas, RN and Nat. Nutritionist, says. “You most likely will need to double your intake of iron from plant sources, as only 10 per cent of iron is absorbed from a vegetarian/vegan diet compared to the 18 per cent absorbed from an omnivore diet (these figures are based on a healthy person with no underlying health concerns or absorption issues).”

Thankfully, we live in a time when supplementation and information about managing iron intake are both readily accessible.

“To help boost iron absorption, it is important to consider the foods that can help increase iron absorption, such as those rich in Vitamin C, as well as cooking the plant source of iron. Broccoli can be a great source of iron, but the body will absorb around 6 per cent of iron from raw broccoli, as opposed to 30 per cent absorption when the broccoli is cooked,” Madeline says.

It’s also important to consider what you don’t consume as well—for example, tea, coffee and wine all contain tannins that reduce iron absorption by binding to the iron and carrying it out of the blood. If you’re looking to increase your iron intake, it may be worth considering a reduction in consumption of these beverages at the same time.

Being conscious of iron intake is one way to promote good health, especially considering the important role iron plays in our bodies. “Iron is an essential nutrient that is responsible for many processes in the body, in particular the transportation of oxygen, the production of myoglobin (a protein that helps to store oxygen in the muscle), the immune system and enzyme production,” Madeline says. “This is the reason that the symptoms of iron deficiency are fatigue, lethargy, poor memory and concentration, poor wound-healing and ability to fight off infections, poor ability to perform at school/work, and breathlessness.”

If you suffer from any of these symptoms, it’s important to get your iron levels checked by your GP. If you continue to let them develop, consequences can include increased fatigue and reduced immune and brain function. Iron deficiency anaemia can develop, which can even affect your heart.

Monitoring iron levels when you have your regular bloodwork done or if you experience any symptoms is recommended. When you consult your practitioner about your iron concerns, a blood test is the usual next step. “This can be done through your healthcare provider and should really include a full iron panel (not just iron stores) to show the full picture and should include iron stores (serum iron), saturation, Total iron binding capacity and transferrin,” Madeline says.

Once your practitioner has your results, they will assess them to determine if you are iron deficient and then work with you to formulate a plan that should involve monitoring your iron levels. This may include changing diet and taking iron supplements.

“However it is very important that you do not simply self-diagnose iron deficiency based on a list of symptoms,” Madeline cautions. “If you take iron supplements when you don’t need to, then you run the risk of developing iron overload, which can lead to liver disease, the development of diabetes and brain damage.”

High Iron Vegan Foods:

Some examples of vegan-friendly foods that contain iron are listed below. Consuming these foods and eating something with Vitamin C in it at the same time will also increase the absorption rate, giving you more bang for your buck.

  • Cooked lentils
  • Tofu
  • Cooked spinach
  • Cooked kidney beans
  • Cooked chick peas
  • Tempeh
  • Cooked lima beans
  • Cooked Swiss chard
  • Cooked black-eyed peas
  • Cooked black beans
  • Cooked pinto beans
  • Prune juice
  • Cooked quinoa
  • Cooked beet greens
  • Tahini
  • Cooked peas
  • Cashews
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Lauren Clarke

Lauren Clarke

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