Iron on a Plant-Based Diet +17 Iron Rich Recipes
Iron is an important mineral and part of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that helps blood carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron in diet comes in two forms
Non-heme iron from plant sources
Physiological needs regulated in part by iron stores (absorption can be increased when the iron stores are low)
Iron inhibitors, such as phytates and polyphenolics
Iron enhancers such as vitamin C, citric acid, and other organic acids
Polyphenols - cocoa, coffee, teas, spices like cloves, berries. Some can inhibit absorption by up to 90%. It is advised not to consume these foods within 2 hours of main iron meal consumption.
Phytates - found in whole grains, dried legumes and nuts. Soaking and cooking has shown to be effective in reduction of phytic acid as well as consequent increase in mineral bioavailablity. Regular consumption of high phytate foods has also shown to reduce the inhibitory effects of non-heme iron absorption for women who have suboptimal iron stores.
Oxalates - found in spinach, beets/beet greens, swiss chard, some herbs like oregano and basil. Cooking reduces oxalic acid.
On the other hand, foods rich in Vitamin C which are usually abundant on plant based diets like citrus, peppers, broccoli, etc. enhance iron absorption.
Older recommendations suggested that vegetarians should consume 1.8 times RDI of iron. However these recommendations were based on limited data not representative of typical vegetarian meals in Western countries.
"The Dietary Reference Intake assigned to iron for vegetarians in 2001 was 80% more than that for non- vegetarians. This derives from the assumption that the bioavailability of iron from a vegetarian diet is 10%, whereas that from a nonvegetarian diet is 18%. These assumptions were based on very limited data using single-meal absorption studies involving meals that were atypical of what most vegetarians consume in Western countries. We now know that individuals can adapt and absorb non-heme iron more effectively."
My favorite sources are:
lentils - 1 cup cooked ~6.6 mg
chia seeds - 3tbsp ~ 4.9 mg
chickpeas - 1 cup cooked ~4.7 mg
black beans - 1 cup cooked ~ 4.1 mg
tofu - 1/2 block ~3.8 mg
blackstrap molasses - 1tbsp ~ 3.6 mg
oatmeal - 1 cup cooked ~3.4 mg
spinach - 1/2 cup steamed ~ 3.2 mg
black eyed peas - 1 cup cooked ~3 mg
Below are some helpful tips on how to get iron on a plant based diet along with amazing recipes from 11 plant based bloggers.
Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics official position on Vegetarian/Vegan diets - There is a section for Iron under Nutrition Considerations for Vegetarians
Lentils & Iron - The Conscious Dietician shares nutrition benefits of eating lentils along with addressing common concerns regarding legumes popularized by diet books and websites.
Iron on a Vegan Diet – How to Get Enough - Sarahs Vegan Guide has some helpful tips on how to get enough iron along with iron rich plant food list.