Iron is another hot topic when it comes to plant based eating. Many think that in order to achieve optimum iron levels in the body then the consumption of meat is required. Throughout this article I hope to make it clear to people how cutting meat out of your diet doesn’t mean you’re going to become iron deficient, providing you’re doing it right.
With any diet, regardless of what title it has, there is always a risk of deficiency. There are simply so many important vitamins and minerals our bodies need that sometimes it can be hard to know the whole range of requirements and where exactly to get them. Thankfully, when it comes to most micronutrients, a nutritious and well planned vegan diet can ensure you’re getting everything you need in plentiful amounts. An important mineral that is crucial for optimal health is iron. Why is it important? Iron is a component of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. People who are iron deficient can’t make enough oxygen carrying red blood cells and thus suffer from the consequences.
Requirements and Types of Iron
It’s important to note that iron requirements differ depending on gender and age. Females typically require more due to loss of the blood for obvious reasons that I wont go into detail over. This is why women are more susceptible to iron deficiency and why it’s even more important that they include plenty of iron rich foods in their diets. There are two different types of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in meat and animal based foods, whereas plant foods only contain non-heme. Whilst heme iron is absorbed slightly easier, the problem with it is that your body will continue to absorb as much of it as possible regardless of its current levels. This can lead to the body having too much iron which can be just as problematic as having too little. However, non-heme iron is different and is absorbed in varying quantities depending on how much your body needs. If you’re slightly low on iron, your body will absorb more, if you’ve got plenty, then your body will absorb less.
How To Get The Most From Iron Consumption
For people that struggle with iron levels, there are a few things you can do to help:
- consuming foods high in vitamin C alongside foods high in iron have been shown to help with iron absorption by a considerable amount
- avoiding tea and coffee in the hours before and after an iron rich meal can also help, as these have been shown to negatively effect iron absorption
- calcium supplements or super high calcium foods can negatively impact iron absorption, therefore avoid these foods close to or with iron rich meals
Best Plant Based Sources
So, what plant based foods contain iron?
- Legumes: chickpeas, kidney beans (any beans really), lentils, tofu etc.
- Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oats etc.
- Nuts and seeds: chia seeds, hemp seeds, cashews, pistachios etc.
- Vegetables: spinach, broccoli etc.
- Dried fruit: raisins, peaches, prunes etc.
To put it simply, providing your diet is based predominantly off of whole foods and you’re ensuring variety, you wont have a problem getting the required amount of iron per day. I personally donate blood on a regular basis and am always told my iron levels are ‘perfect’. Follow the points I’ve made above and you’ll be setting yourself up for success!