Iron Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet

Iron is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, yet it is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide.[1]

About 70 percent of the iron absorbed from your food is used to build oxygen-binding proteins called hemoglobin. It plays a critical role in transporting oxygen around your body, while the remaining iron is used in enzymes or stored in ferritin to provide a buffer when your intake is low.[2]*

If you regularly feel tired, weak, and irritable, or exercise and mental focus become harder than usual, you may be experiencing symptoms of iron deficiency anemia — where the hemoglobin in your red blood cells becomes too low to transport oxygen throughout your bloodstream.[3]* People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet need to be particularly watchful about their iron levels.*

Iron rich foods to add to your diet

How much iron do you need?

Iron comes in the form of heme iron from animal sources and non-heme iron from plant sources. The recommended iron intake for people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet is higher than for people who eat meat.* This is because non-heme iron is not absorbed by the body as well as heme iron.*

 

Iron-rich plant foods

Even though heme iron is better absorbed into the body than non-heme iron, you can still fulfill your iron requirements following a vegetarian or vegan diet.*

Many plant foods contain iron. Eating a wide variety of these can help you maintain healthy iron levels. Combining plant sources of iron with vitamin C rich foods in the same meal will also enhance your absorption of non-heme iron.[4] Here’s how much iron some delicious vegan-friendly ingredients can add to your meals and snacks.[1,5]

 

Beans and lentils

  • Dried soybeans, cooked: 5 mg per ¾ cup
  • Green soybeans, cooked: 4 mg per ½ cup
  • Lentils, cooked: 9 mg per ¾ cup
  • Red kidney beans, cooked: 9 mg per ¾ cup
  • Refried beans, canned: 7 mg per ¾ cup
  • Chickpeas, canned: 2 mg per ¾ cup
  • Lima beans: 2 mg per ½ cup

 

Nuts and seeds

  • Pumpkin seeds, roasted: 7 mg per ¼ cup
  • Sesame seed butter (tahini): 3 mg per 2 tbsp
  • Sunflower seeds, dry roasted: 2 mg per ¼ cup

 

Vegetables

  • Spinach, cooked: 4 mg per ½ cup
  • Spinach, raw: 9 mg per 1 cup
  • Swiss chard, cooked: 1 mg per ½ cup
  • Beet greens, cooked: 5 mg per ½ cup
  • Green peas, cooked: 3 mg per ½ cup
  • Potato, baked: 9 mg per 1
  • Seaweed, dried: 7 mg per ½ cup
  • Beets, boiled: 7 mg per ½ cup

 

Cereals and breads (cooked)

  • Enriched cold cereal: 5 mg per ½ cup
  • Enriched hot cereal: 4 mg per ¾ cup
  • Quinoa: 5 mg per ½ cup
  • Oats: 3 mg per ¾ cup
  • Pearled barley: 1 mg per ½ cup
  • Bagel: 9 mg per ½
  • Whole wheat bread: 9 mg per slice
  • Whole wheat pasta: 8 mg per ½ cup

 

Other

  • Tofu, medium or firm: 4 mg per ¾ cup
  • Hummus: 2 mg per ¼ cup
  • Sauerkraut: 1 mg per ½ cup
  • Fortified soy beverages: 1 mg per 1 cup

 

Tips for boosting iron levels

With the right food choices throughout the day, you can enjoy the enormous health benefits of a plant-based diet while also boosting your iron levels. In addition to eating plenty of iron rich foods, you can help increase your iron intake and absorption by:

  • Cooking with a cast iron skillet or pan
  • Avoiding caffeinated or tannin containing beverages that hinder absorption, such as wine, black tea, herbal tea, or coffee, within one hour of your meal
  • Eating dairy products and calcium supplements separately from iron-rich foods

If you are having trouble maintaining adequate iron levels through diet alone or you are recovering from iron deficiency, supplementation is a helpful option that you should discuss with your health professional.

 

References:

1. World Health Organization. Iron deficiency anaemia [Internet]. Who.int [cited 24 July 2020] Available from: https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/

2. Gupta CP. Role of iron (Fe) in body. IOSR Journal of Applied Chemistry. 2014; 7(11):38-46.

3. Lopez A, Cacoub P, Macdougall LC, et al. Iron deficiency anaemia. The Lancet. 2016; 387(10021):907-16.

4. Government of Canada. Iron [Internet]. Canada.ca 2019 [cited 24 July 2020]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/iron.html

5. HealthLinkBC. Iron in foods [Internet]. Healthlinkbc.ca 2020 [cited 24 July 2020]. Available from: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/iron-foods

6. Alves C, Saleh A, Alaofè H. Iron-containing cookware for the reduction of iron deficiency anemia among children and females of reproductive age in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review. PLoS ONE; 14(9): e0221094.