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Where Do Vegans Get Their Iron? Exploring Sources and Absorption Strategies

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

In recent years, the popularity of veganism has surged, with more and more people opting for a plant-based lifestyle for health, ethical, and environmental reasons. However, one common concern often raised is whether vegans can obtain sufficient iron from their diet. Iron is a vital mineral that plays a crucial role in our overall well-being, and ensuring an adequate intake is essential for everyone, including those following a vegan diet. Today, we're exploring the best sources of iron for vegans, strategies to enhance iron absorption, and the importance of iron in our bodies.

Iron is an indispensable mineral that holds a multitude of roles within the body. Its primary function is to aid in the production of haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to every cell in the body. Iron is also involved in the creation of myoglobin which is a protein responsible for oxygen storage in muscles, and it contributes to various enzymatic reactions that are crucial for energy production and for a healthy immune system.

There's a common misconception that iron is primarily found in animal products, but that's just a myth. There are numerous plant-based sources that are readily available and can provide vegans with the necessary iron intake. Some of the best sources include:

  1. Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and soybeans are excellent sources of iron. They are also rich in protein and fibre so it's easy to see why they're a vegan staple.

  2. Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens are not only high in iron but also packed with vitamins and antioxidants that promote our overall health.

  3. Nuts and Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, and almonds offer a healthy dose of iron. They can be enjoyed as snacks or used as toppings for various dishes (I sprinkle pumpkin seeds over my oats in the morning for a nice crunch!).

  4. Dried Fruits: Raisins, apricots, and prunes are convenient sources of iron that can be easily incorporated into breakfasts or snacks.

Enhancing Iron Absorption - Making Sure We Get Enough

While plant-based sources of iron are abundant, it's important to note that the type of iron found in plants, called non-heme iron, is not as readily absorbed by the body as heme iron from animal products. However, there are strategies to boost iron absorption:

  1. Vitamin C: Consuming vitamin C-rich foods alongside iron-rich foods enhances absorption. Incorporate citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, oranges and strawberries into your meals to your meals for an extra kick of iron.

  2. Avoid Calcium and Tannins: Calcium and tannins, found in tea and coffee, can hinder iron absorption. Try to consume these separately from iron-rich meals.

  3. Pair with Animal-Free Sources of Heme Iron: Certain plant-based foods, like fortified cereals, are enriched with heme iron from non-animal sources, which can be better absorbed by the body.

In some cases, obtaining sufficient iron solely from food sources might be challenging. This is especially true for individuals with increased iron needs, such as pregnant women or athletes, but it's certainly not impossible. In these instances, iron supplements can be considered, but as always, it's best to speak with a healthcare pro before taking them, as excessive iron intake can lead to some adverse side effects.

Vegans can achieve adequate iron intake through a well-planned and diverse plant-based diet - as always, the key is in eating the rainbow. By incorporating iron-rich foods, optimising how your body absorbs iron (using hacks like VitC), and ensuring a balanced approach to the food on your plate, you can maintain optimal iron levels whilst supporting your overall health. Remember, a whole foods, plant-based diet rich in iron not only benefits your body but also contributes to a sustainable and compassionate lifestyle. Together, we can change the world, one plate at a time.


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