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A quick guide to 11 iron-rich foods vegetarian’s choice!
Health is the key to everything. Any deficiency in nutrient intake can lead to a total imbalance of health. One common problem is iron deficiency, anemia especially in vegetarians, as their diet includes plant compounds. Iron is an essential nutrient, and its deficiency in the body leads to a total imbalance of health.
So, through this post, let’s look into an iron-rich vegetarian or vegan diet to increase iron absorption.
But, before that, let’s understand iron.
What is Iron?
Iron is a vital mineral that is required by the human body. It is very vital for many body functions. It is a dietary supplement that is naturally present in some food products. The dietary iron can be found in two forms –
- Heme iron
- Non-haem iron
Poultry, meat, seafood contains both heam iron and non-heam iron.
Plant foods and iron-fortified foods contain only non-heme types of iron.
Role of Iron in the Human Body
- Iron helps produce red blood cells in the body, and these red blood cells, also called erythrocytes, transports oxygen throughout the body.
- It helps in maintaining a strong immune system keeping you disease-free, and maintaining good health.
- It is also necessary to keep your skin healthy and beautiful. It is proven that iron can reverse the effects of free radicals on the skin.
- Iron aids in wound healing.
- It activates vitamin B in the body.
- Iron transmutes the blood sugar present in the body into energy.
- It helps in maintaining healthy nails and hair.
- Iron is also necessary for making hormones. Any hormone imbalance can affect a person in tremendous ways, from a simple change in weight to anything lethal.
How Much Iron Should I Take?
The amount of iron a person needs per day depends upon age, gender, and the type of diet the person follows.
Here is a list of daily intake of iron for people of different ages and sex:
- An adult woman (age 19-50 years) requires 18 mg of iron.
- An adult man (age 19-50 years) needs 8 mg of iron.
- Pregnant women require 27 mg of iron.
- A breastfeeding woman needs 9mg of iron.
- Children of age groups 4-13 years require 8 to 10 mg of iron.
- Whereas teenagers, boys (age 13-18) need a daily intake of 11 mg of iron.
- Teenagers, girls (age 13-18) need 15 mg of iron.
However, people who follow vegetarian diets need double the amount of iron listed above. The human body doesn’t absorb the non-heme iron obtained from plant foods as efficiently as heme iron from a meat source.
But for vegetarians, their only source is plant-based foods. So, they need to find suitable sources and incorporate as much iron as possible.
Let us now check some of the best iron-rich foods vegetarian choices.
Iron-rich Foods Vegetarian Choices
Green leafy vegetables, lentils, certain fruits are rich in iron. Though maintaining proper intake of iron through a vegetarian diet is hard, it’s not impossible.
Here are some plant-based foods to increase iron absorption
Spinach is a dense source of non-haem iron. This leafy green veggie has many health benefits to offer. It is very low in calories, making it a very positive choice of food.
This iron-rich veggie also contains essential antioxidants, minerals and vitamins.
Almost 100 grams of spinach provides 2.7 mg of iron.
Although the body does not easily absorb the non-haem iron available in spinach as that of heam iron, spinach also contains a perfect amount of vitamin c, which actively elevates the absorption of iron in the body.
2. Amaranth leaves
Amaranth is observed in the foothills of the Himalayas to southern India. They come in a range of colours like red, green, purple, to gold.
This ancient veggie is the storehouse of many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
One cooked cup of amaranth leaves consists of 2.7 grams of protein and 2.98 mg of iron.
The regular consumption of this non-heme iron-rich superfood helps tackle heavy mensuration and eases digestion.
As it is high in iron content and fibre, it is perfect for anemic patients.
It helps in diminishing cholesterol levels in the body, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. For vegetarians, it is the perfect choice to boosting up their iron intake.
Kale is loaded with nutrients that are beneficial for human health. This is one of the healthiest vegetables available for vegetarians and vegans.
It comes in a range of colours, starting from green to purple. Scots kale is the most common type of kale available.
100 gms of kale consists of 1.5 mg of iron. In addition to iron, it has a perfect amount of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, calcium, manganese, copper, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants.
Other iron-rich veggies include dandelion greens, collards, string beans, leafy greens.
This root vegetable is packed with a good source of fibre, iron, vitamin C, folate, and Potassium.
One hundred grams of beetroot consist of 0.8 mg of iron and 1.5 grams of proteins.
Water is the main content of beetroot. 80 to 87% of beet content is water and provides a good amount of fibre.
Along with being a good source of iron, beetroot provides other health benefits too, such as: helps lower blood pressure, improves stamina, helps with heart failure, helps cells grow and function.
Potatoes contain a good amount of iron and carbohydrates. Iron is mainly concentrated in the potato skin.
One hundred grams of unpeeled potatoes consist of 0.8 mg of daily iron intake.
100 grams of baked potatoes contain 1.1 mg of iron.
It has a significant amount of folate, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), B1, B6, potassium.
100 grams of potatoes have 1.6 mg of proteins.
Potatoes help in averting cardiovascular diseases. It also comes to aids in balancing cholesterol levels due to its significant amounts of fibres.
Mushrooms are a type of edible fungi. Mushrooms are often regarded as vegan meat or vegetarian meat. This edible fungus is loaded with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and antibiotics.
100 grams of mushrooms contains 0.5mg of iron and 3.1 mg of proteins. It has significant amounts of vitamin D and calcium.
It lessens the risk of developing health problems like heart disorders, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, anemia etc
Oats are nothing but grains of the plant Avina Sativa, simply the cereal plant. After harvesting, these grains are processed to get the nutrient-rich end product: oats.
A cup of oats consists of 3.4 mg of daily iron intake. These incredibly nutritious, processed grains are significantly loaded with vitamin B1, B5, folate, zinc, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, fibre, proteins, and antioxidants.
They help in maintaining good health by regulating blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels in the body. It also eases digestion, preventing constipation.
They help in treating anemia and childhood asthma.
Tofu is produced from the soybean curd, which is the coagulation of soy milk. This is naturally gluten-free.
100 grams of tofu consist of 2.96 mg of daily required iron. Tofu is a significant source of iron and calcium.
100 grams of tofu provides 8 grams of proteins, making it an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
It helps in maintaining healthy skin and hair.
It helps prevent and regulate many health issues like cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer, kidney malfunction.
It also helps in regulating osteoporosis, menopause, age-related brain disorders, lifestyle disorders.
Nuts are an excellent source of iron which is in the form called non-heam iron.
Here are the few nuts that have a significant amount of iron reserves in them.
Almonds and almond butter are the perfect sources of iron.
Half a cup of whole almonds consists of 3.1 mg of iron.
Apart from iron, almonds also have significant amounts of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, folate, copper, zinc, fibre etc
It is an excellent source of protein. One ounce of almonds provides 6.0 grams of proteins.
Almonds can be used in the form of almond butter, almond milk, flour, oil.
Every 100 grams of Cashew nuts consists of 6.7 mg of iron.
One ounce of cashew nuts consists of 5.17 grams of protein and 0.9 grams of fibre.
These sweet-flavoured nuts consist of a good amount of magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, calcium.
They also contain a minor amount of vitamin C and vitamin B.
Cashew nuts are also available in the form of cashew milk, cashew-based cheese, sour cream and cashew-based sauces.
Walnuts can be described as the nutritional powerhouse of a vegetarian diet. This nutty superfood consists of almost 15% of proteins and 65 percent of fats. Every 100 grams of walnuts contains 2.9 mg of iron and 7 grams of fibre.
Walnuts are rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids.
Regular consumption of Walnuts promotes a healthy gut, body weight. It also helps in controlling type-2 diabetes, blood pressure, maintaining proper brain health.
It also helps by supporting the male reproductive system.
Besides the nuts mentioned above, peanuts, chestnuts, pistachio, pine nuts, and macadamia are also rich in iron.
Seeds and whole grains are very densely nutritious and have very significant reserves of iron.
Anyone who wants to improve their iron intake should consider including seeds in their daily diet.
Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds are excellent sources of iron.
These iron-dense seeds contain around 1.2 to 4.2 mg of iron per two tablespoons.
These seeds are also rich in the reserves of fibre, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium and antioxidants. Pumpkin seeds also have a good amount of vitamin K in them.
These tiny seeds also contain significant amounts of omega-three fatty acids and omega-six fatty acids.
Hemp seeds particularly have a very dense amount of these two fatty acids.
Pineapple, blackBerry, mulberries, apple, citrus fruits, pomegranate, figs, watermelon, strawberries, Prunes have very significant reserves of iron in them.
Fruits are healthy choices for everyone, be it vegetarian or non-vegetarians. One should include one fruit regularly in their diet plan.
Other foods rich in iron
Olives, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kidney beans, cooked Swiss chard, whole wheat bread, fortified breakfast cereal, soya beans, asparagus, cabbage, dark leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, blackstrap molasses, prune juice, cauliflower, beans, peas, dark chocolate, broccoli, dried fruits, cooked Lentils, whole grains, make up good iron-rich meals, increasing iron absorption.
Ways to Increase Iron Absorption Through a Plant-based Diet
Though they are many plant foods rich in iron, the absorption of non-heme iron is not as efficient as that of haem iron.
Hence, iron absorption in non-vegetarians is excellent and high compared to vegetarians as the body doesn’t absorb non-haem iron efficiently.
Due to this, the iron intake of vegetarians should be twice that of non-vegetarians. The daily intake of actively mensurating women should be 36 gm, post menstrual women 32 mg and men should take 14mg per day.
Here are some proven ways to increase iron absorption
Vitamin C intake
- Eating non-heme iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods increases the amount of iron absorption.
Limiting caffeine intake
- Drinking coffee and tea with meals inhibits iron absorption by 50-90% approximately, even when there is a high intake of iron-rich foods.
- Cocoa powder is also known to decrease the absorption of iron.
- Combine iron-rich foods with lysine to increase iron absorption.
Limiting intake of cow’s milk in toddlers
- Excessive intake of this milk in toddlers is proven to block iron absorption leading to anemia.
Iron Deficiency: Anemia
It is necessary to take enough iron. Lack of iron intake in the daily diet doesn’t have apparent symptoms as our body usually compensates for iron deficiency.
Our body uses the iron reserves stored in the muscles, bone marrow, liver, spleen and compensates for the lack of iron in the diet.
But gradually, the problem occurs as the body’s reserves of iron fall short. This leads to iron deficiency syndrome, anemia.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include the following:
Weakness, lack of energy to carry forward daily activities, loss of concentration, memory impairment.
People with iron deficiency or anemia have weak immune systems. Their ability to fight diseases and disease-causing microorganisms is inferior.
Hence it is necessary to check the iron status in the body and make changes in the diet according to it.
Health Hazards of Iron
Excessive intake of iron can be harmful and health hazardous. If a healthy person takes a high dosage of iron supplements, it can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, upset stomach, constipation, nausea.
Zinc absorption is significantly reduced due to a high intake of iron.
Extremely high dosages of iron can cause serious health problems leading to organ failure, coma and even death.
It is advisable not to take an excess of not only iron but also other nutrients. Excessive intake of nutrients can even lead to death. One should practice mindful eating and eat according to the requirement of their body.
Anything in excess is never good for the body. Therefore, we suggest you consult a professional before fixing your diet plan.
Only take what is needed by your body.