How do vegans get enough iron? If you’ve been vegan for longer than oh, say 15 minutes this is probably one of the questions that you’ve been asked by well meaning friends and family. Could be you’re also thinking of becoming a vegan and you’re wondering how do I get iron from my vegan diet.
We should also be asking, if we’re asking where vegans get their iron from, how do vegetarians get enough iron? I would argue that vegetarians are perhaps at more risk than vegans for an iron deficiency if they eat a lot of dairy and eggs.
Here’s the truth of that matter. Milk has no iron (0.1mg per cup) but 1 egg does have 25% of the days worth (4.4mg). But eating 4 eggs a day is just not good for you despite what the egg board might have you believe.
Even eating one egg a day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease so that isn’t a recommended source of iron. And eating egg whites and discarding the yolk means you’re discarding the iron.
And if you’re drinking a couple or more glasses of milk you’re displacing other iron rich plant foods from your diet.
Now this is not to downplay the role that iron has in the body and iron deficiency anemia should be corrected. However, a vegan all plant based diet can be more than adequate to provide all the iron that your body needs, even if you are a pregnant woman. Pregnant women require the most amount of iron amongst humans.
The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of iron for pregnant women is 27mg. This is 50% more than non pregnant females of the same age require and over 3 times more than men of the same age require.
27mg of iron can be obtained from the following foods.
1 cup of Total cereal
1 cup of lentils
0.5 cup of cooked spinach
The above 3 items come to a whopping 420 calories. Granted, the Total cereal has 18mg or 100% of the RDA for non-pregnant females. But if you are pregnant you are going to creating a menu of plant based foods if you are vegan that take care of your nutritional needs. It is better to be eating a well balanced plant based diet than relying on supplements even when pregnant, though of course pregnant women should ensure that they are not deficient in any of the required vitamins and minerals and everyone on a plant based diet should be taking a daily supplement of vitamin B12.
I’m not saying that a vegan or vegetarian diet will keep you immune from iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency is, according to the WHO (World Health Organization), the number one nutritional disorder in the world and the WHO believes as many as 30% of the world’s population may have iron deficiency anemia.
As a vegan we should be well versed in human nutritional needs so that we can remain plant strong and healthy.
If you are iron deficient my first suggestion would be to start adding iron fortified and iron rich plant foods into your diet. Beans and lentils, fortified cereals, molasses and tofu are decent sources. Veggie meats like veggie burgers will often contain up to 25% or 4.5mg of iron per patty – you need to read the nutritional label. Also have a small glass of orange juice with your meals as vitamin C is helpful in aiding the absorption of iron.
This short blog post cannot do justice to the complete issue of iron absorption and it should certainly not be taken as medical advice as I am not a doctor. If you have iron deficiency or anemia caused by iron deficiency you should consult with your doctor about possible supplementation.
I always prefer to fill dietary gaps when possible. When you are looking at the need for supplements my research seems to suggest that ferrous iron salts like ferrous fumarate, ferrous sulfate, and ferrous gluconate are the most easily absorbed. Flora’s Floradix Iron + Herbs uses ferrous gluconate as the iron source and the recommended serving contains 10mg of iron. If you prefer tablet then you might want to try Feosol Ferrous Sulfate tablets. As mentioned before you should consult your doctor first as it is not recommended to take iron supplements if you are not iron deficient.
Iron deficiency is most common in women due to their ongoing blood loss each month. That does not mean that iron deficiency cannot happen in men just that it is less common. I have also not seen any research that suggest that vegans and vegetarians are more susceptible to iron deficiency then the general population.
However, from anecdotal experience my sister’s anemia cleared up when she went from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet.
As Hippocrates said, make food your medicine. Eating a well balance plant based diet should provide all the iron you need for all stages of life. Pregnant women would do well to include fortified iron foods such as fortified cereals and fortified veggie meats in their diet.
I recommend against iron supplementation unless you have consulted your doctor and found to be truly iron deficient. To your health and vitality. Be plant strong but not foolish.