Jumping into the world of veganism may feel scary at first because of all the complex diet rules and cynics. And while you can’t do much about the cynics, meeting your dietary needs is easier than you think.
Your body is unique, and its demands may vary from the recommended daily amounts. Let’s start with iron – a vital mineral.
The Importance of Plant-Based Iron in a Healthy Vegan Diet
When we think about getting enough iron from our diets, we assume all iron is the same. In reality, there are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is the type of iron that is present in animal source foods. And non-heme iron is the type that is abundant in plant-based foods.
Vegan diets call for the inclusion of many foods that are rich in iron. That’s because the body doesn’t absorb iron from plant-based sources as efficiently. This seems to be bad news for vegans and vegetarians. But as studies suggest, most plant-based diets are on the lower end of healthy iron intake.
In fact, slower rates of iron absorption are more beneficial. When the supply of iron takes place in smaller amounts, the body can maintain more stable levels of iron. This reduces the chance of overdosing on iron, which can be just as dangerous as not getting enough iron.
Ironically, by living on the verge of iron deficiency, vegans and vegetarians fend off the diseases associated with iron excess.
But how do you tackle the risk of iron deficiency on a plant-based diet? Let’s see what plant-based iron sources you need to be on the lookout for.
Key Sources of Plant-Based Iron for Vegans
The best way to ensure you’re getting enough of any nutrient is to read nutrition labels. Or to stick to a set of foods that meet your body’s nutritional demands. Many foods on the market have iron. Not all of them, however, can provide you with a substantial amount.
The food groups below are the best plant-based iron sources:
- Vegetables: tomato paste, potatoes, spinach, kale, beet greens, collard greens, swiss chard, mushrooms, mustard greens, leeks, turnip greens, yams, fennel, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, okra, carrots, green beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, squash, and pumpkin.
- Legumes: soybeans, lima beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, tempeh, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and tofu.
- Nuts and Seeds: hemp, chia, pumpkin, sesame, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, pistachio, hazelnuts, chestnuts, coconut meat, pecans, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, and almonds.
- Grains: quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, oats, and fortified cereals.
- Other iron-rich foods: tahini, blackstrap molasses, prune juice, herbs, raisins, olives, dark chocolate, and mulberries.
Despite such a generous selection of wonderful iron-rich foods, iron in itself isn’t easy to digest. By following a few tips, though, you can boost your body’s absorption of iron.
And when it comes to vegan truffles and calories, more is still most definitely less. So, what’s not to love? Find out more intriguing vegan recipes to try, making vegan food does not have to be boring.
How to Make the Most of Plant-Based Iron Sources
Many foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals. But it doesn’t guarantee that your body will digest all of those vital micronutrients.
To improve the absorption of iron, follow these simple tips:
- Consume iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C.
- Eat iron-rich foods in small portions throughout the day.
- Avoid drinking tea or coffee one hour before and after an iron-rich meal.
- Cook food in an iron skillet.
- Avoid eating too many greens, such as spinach and kale, since calcium in them makes it harder to digest iron.
- Soak, sprout and ferment iron-rich foods.
- Pair iron-rich foods with lysine-rich foods.
- Avoid eating foods containing casein with iron-rich meals.
Following these simple tricks can kick your iron absorption up a notch.
Vegan Sources of Plant-Based Iron Aren’t for Everyone
Contrary to the popular misconception, not everyone is better off going vegan. There’s a slew of conditions, medications, and genetic factors making it impossible to enjoy a tasty plant-based diet.
Some of them include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Crohn’s Disease.
- Ulcerative Colitis.
- Celiac disease.
- Allergy to nuts, legumes, and other iron-rich foods.
- Genetic disorders affecting iron absorption.
- Congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency.
- Gastric Bypass Surgery.
- Medications that alter iron absorption.
Following a plant-based diet is a fulfilling adventure. But you’ll be wise to check with your doctor if it’s an adventure that your body can afford. If so, we hope our guide has helped you figure out how to get enough iron from plant-based iron sources.
Featured Photo by Artem Beliaikin