Iron deficiency (commonly called anemia) is the most common nutrient deficiency on a worldwide basis. If your iron is low, it will cause fatigue and severely limit your physical capabilities. Iron deficiency in children has been shown to diminish both growth and learning. Red meat is one of the easiest sources of plentiful dietary iron. Vegetarians are more likely to develop iron anemia than meat-eaters. For those who are trying to limit meat consumption and increase vegetable consumption, here are some vegetable sources of iron:
- Legumes — beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils — are great sources of iron.
- Soybeans (and foods derived from soybeans like natto, tofu, and tempeh) are packed with iron. Soybeans contain around 8.8 mg of iron per cup (that’s half of the RDI).
- Nuts and seeds can be high in iron, depending on where they’re grown. Keep in mind that blanching or roasting nuts can damage their nutrients, so try to incorporate some raw nuts and seeds when possible. And of course, with nut butters, choose a 100% natural version without hydrogenated oils, or added sugars, preservatives, or artificial garbage.
- Leafy green vegetables: Gram for gram, greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, and chard often have a higher iron content than foods typically associated with high iron, such as meat and eggs. Although vegetables contain non-heme iron (which is less easily absorbed), they are also generally rich in vitamin C, which helps enhance iron absorption.
- Unpeeled potatoes: Most of a potato’s iron is concentrated in the skin. Potatoes are also a great source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.
- Whole grains: Amaranth, spelt, oats, quinoa. As you know, I am a fan of organic food whenever possible – this minimizes your exposure to both pesticides and glycophosphates (RoundUp).
- Dried thyme: Thyme is a popular culinary herb, and research has linked it to health benefits ranging from fighting bacterial infections and bronchitis to improving your mood. Thyme also happens to be one of the herbs with the highest iron content, offering 1.2 mg per dried teaspoon, or around 7% of the RDI.
A note for vegetarians: The heme iron found in meat and animal products is generally more easily absorbed by the human body than the non-heme iron found in plants. For this reason, the recommended daily intake of iron is almost double for vegetarians and vegans than for those who eat meat.
(This amounts to approximately 14 mg per day for vegetarian men and post-menopausal women, 32 mg per day for menstruating women, and 49 mg per day for pregnant women)
Tips to better absorb vegetable sources of iron
Here are some tips to increase your body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron (vegetable sources of iron):
- Eat vitamin C-rich foods: Consuming vitamin C-rich foods may increase the absorption of non-heme iron by up 300%. A daily vitamin C supplement will enhance iron absorption too.
- Avoid coffee and tea with meals: Drinking coffee or tea with meals can reduce iron absorption by 50-90%. (Polyphenols and oxalates reduces your body’s absorption of both iron and calcium).
- Use a cast iron skillet: Foods cooked in a cast iron skillet tend to provide 2-3 times more iron.
If you’d like some help putting together healthy nutrition plans, shoot me an email and we’ll set a time to talk.