Can you get enough iron if you are a vegetarian or vegan? Lack of iron is one of the most common concerns for vegetarians and vegans. The truth is you can easily get more than enough iron on a plant-based diet.
As a matter of fact, iron deficiency is no more common in vegetarians than it is in the rest of the population. Many studies have revealed that vegetarians actually get as much iron as meat eaters do. This is likely due to the balanced plant-based diet that many vegetarians and vegans adopt that includes a great variety of iron-rich foods such as legumes, nuts and seeds, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, which also happen to be a good source of vitamin C that aids iron absorption.
What many people don’t realise is that plant-based foods often have a similar quantity of iron as animal-based foods (see image below). For example, 100g of tofu contains 3mg while 100g of beef has 3.5mg. Even half a cup of rolled oat will give you 2.2mg.
How much iron do you need a day?
Iron is a key part of haemoglobin, a protein your red blood cells use to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Because of haemoglobin's ability to bind oxygen, your blood iron level is crucial for supporting the normal function of every cell in your body. If you're low in iron, you may feel weak and run-down because your body isn't getting enough oxygen. Many of us grew up with the idea that red meat is high in iron—and it is. But it's also high in cholesterol, animal fat, and other undesirables.
Recommended dietary iron intakes
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adult males and for women over 50 is 8mg per day. For women aged 19-50, the RDA is 18mg per day (it's higher to compensate for menstrual losses).
How To Get Enough Iron In A Day On A Plant Based Diet
This is just a SIMPLE MEAL PLAN that you can easily incorporate into your everyday diet.
As you can see from the meal plan on the infographic, meeting your daily requirement for iron is simply not as difficult as you would imagine! Many times, you may have gotten more than enough iron when you follow a simple plant-rich diet with a good variety of iron-rich foods.
Why vegetarians tend to be lower in iron?
Since iron is so easily available in our everyday foods, how could a vegetarian run low?
There are a number of reasons why vegetarians tend to be lower in iron:
1. First of all, some vegetarians and vegans eat everything including lots of processed foods except those fresh, healthful, iron-rich vegetables and legumes.
2. Dairy products interfere with iron absorption: if you have a glass of milk with a meal, it reduces the iron you absorb from the other foods you eat by about half.
3. A young woman's menstrual flow leads to iron losses every month.
4. Vitamin B-12 is indirectly responsible for raising your blood iron level within healthy range. Vitamin B12 plays an integral part in red blood cell production. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, so either a decreased number of red blood cells or a lack of haemoglobin, can lead to anaemia. Abnormally shaped red blood cells that don’t carry enough haemoglobin also cause anaemia. B12- and iron-deficiency anaemia are different problems, although they can occur at the same time.
Talk to your doctor and dietitian if you have questions about your need for iron and vitamin B-12.
Click the link below to read more on High-risk groups for iron deficiency
5 Strategies to boost daily iron levels
Below are the 5 simple strategies that you can easily implement without worrying about counting every gram of iron from food.
Ensure you incorporate these following food groups in a day:
1/2 cup legumes or more per day (all types of beans, lentils, peas, tofu)
3-4 cups of vegetables/salad or more per day (it’s best if squeezed in some fresh lemon juice rich in vitamin C to aid iron absorption).
Small handful of nuts and seeds per day (approx. 1/4 cup).
2 serves of medium size fruit a day.
Avoid caffeinated food and beverages such as chocolates, coffee, tea, soft drinks that may deplete iron from your body.
Take home message for plant eaters
If you routinely implement the at least 3 or more strategies above and have a good variety of iron-rich foods, there’s probably nothing to worry about. Just be mindful of the factors that may affect iron absorption. A regular blood test including iron levels once a year would be recommended.
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If you need further help with boosting your iron levels and other important nutrients, our BBDiet dietitian could provide you the best support possible with personalised nutrition plan that suits your personal needs and preferences.
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