Iron intake for vegetarians

Iron deficiency can be a nutritional problem and vegetarians, especially women, may need to take special care to avoid it. Because iron stores in vegetarians are usually lower (although still within the normal range), there is less leeway for poor dietary choices.

The major function of iron is to transport oxygen to all of the organs, muscles and tissues in your body. Anaemia caused by iron deficiency can cause symptoms such as tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath, and headache.

Iron in food

There are 2 forms of iron found in food — haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is the more readily absorbed form of iron, and makes up about 40 per cent of the iron in meat, poultry and fish. Eggs and many plant foods also contain iron, but it is in the non-haem form, which is less well absorbed.

If you are a vegetarian, you need to include plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet. You should also take care to combine iron-rich foods with foods that enhance iron absorption, and avoid foods and drinks that inhibit absorption.

For vegetarians, sources of iron include:

  • tofu;
  • legumes (lentils, dried peas and beans);
  • wholegrain cereals (in particular, iron-fortified breakfast cereals);
  • green vegetables such as broccoli or Asian greens;
  • nuts, especially cashews;
  • dried fruits such as apricots;
  • eggs; and
  • seeds such as sunflower seeds or products such as tahini.

It is recommended that everyone, whether following a vegetarian diet or not, should include some plant-based foods in every meal. Vegetarians should include iron-rich foods in these choices.

Enhancing iron absorption

Vitamin C

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) has been shown to enhance the absorption of the non-haem iron found in plant foods by up to 2 to 3 times if taken at the same time. So to improve your iron intake, combine iron-rich plant foods with foods that are rich in vitamin C.

Any fruit or vegetable will supply some vitamin C, but good sources include:

  • citrus fruits;
  • kiwifruit;
  • strawberries;
  • tomatoes;
  • capsicum;
  • broccoli;
  • cabbage; and
  • spinach.

Inhibitors of iron absorption


Tannins fall into a class of plant compounds called polyphenols. They are found in regular tea, herbal teas such as peppermint tea, red wine, coffee and some berries (such as cranberries).

Tannins may have some health benefits, but they can ‘tie-up’ non-haem iron, reducing its absorption. So to minimise this effect and ensure adequate iron absorption, vegetarians should try to avoid drinking strong tea, red wine, coffee and cocoa (which all contain tannins or polyphenols with similar properties) at meal times.

The effect of tannins in reducing iron absorption can be partially overcome by including sources of vitamin C that enhance iron absorption.


While calcium is important for bones, it may also inhibit iron absorption. For best absorption of iron, avoid taking calcium supplements at the same time as eating iron-rich foods.


Excessive intakes of zinc (as a result of overuse of zinc supplements) can also impair iron absorption.

Recommended iron intake

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s recommended dietary intake (RDI) of iron for vegetarians is almost double that of non-vegetarians.

Absorption of iron may be lower with a vegetarian diet, but vegetarians can consume adequate iron to meet their daily needs by eating a diet that includes a wide variety of plant foods, especially those rich in iron. It’s also important to reduce the risk of low iron levels by eating foods that enhance iron absorption, such as those that are good sources of vitamin C, at the same meal.

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Last Reviewed: 31/07/2013


Iron in the Vegan Diet

by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
From Simply Vegan 5th Edition updated August, 2018


Dried beans and dark green leafy vegetables are especially good sources of iron, even better on a per calorie basis than meat. Iron absorption is increased markedly by eating foods containing vitamin C along with foods containing iron. Vegetarians do not have a higher incidence of iron deficiency than do meat eaters.

Iron is an essential nutrient because it is a central part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Iron deficiency anemia is a worldwide health problem that is especially common in young women and in children.

Iron is found in food in two forms, heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron, which makes up 40 percent of the iron in meat, poultry, and fish, is well absorbed. Non-heme iron, 60 percent of the iron in animal tissue and all the iron in plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts) is less well absorbed. Because vegan diets only contain non-heme iron, vegans should be especially aware of foods that are high in iron and techniques that can promote iron absorption. Recommendations for iron for vegetarians (including vegans) may be as much as 1.8 times higher than for non-vegetarians 1.

Some might expect that since the vegan diet contains a form of iron that is not that well absorbed, vegans might be prone to developing iron deficiency anemia. However, surveys of vegans (2,3) have found that iron deficiency anemia is no more common among vegetarians than among the general population although vegans tend to have lower iron stores 3.

The reason for the satisfactory iron status of many vegans may be that commonly eaten foods are high in iron, as Table 1 shows. In fact, if the amount of iron in these foods is expressed as milligrams of iron per 100 calories, many foods eaten by vegans are superior to animal-derived foods. This concept is illustrated in Table 2. For example, you would have to eat more than 1700 calories of sirloin steak to get the same amount of iron as found in 100 calories of spinach.

Another reason for the satisfactory iron status of vegans is that vegan diets are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C acts to markedly increase absorption of non-heme iron. Adding a vitamin C source to a meal increases non-heme iron absorption up to six-fold which makes the absorption of non-heme iron as good or better than that of heme iron 4.

Fortunately, many vegetables, such as broccoli and bok choy, which are high in iron, are also high in vitamin C so that the iron in these foods is very well absorbed. Commonly eaten combinations, such as beans and tomato sauce or stir-fried tofu and broccoli, also result in generous levels of iron absorption.

It is easy to obtain iron on a vegan diet. Table 3 shows several menus whose iron content is markedly higher than the RDA for iron.

Both calcium and tannins (found in tea and coffee) reduce iron absorption. Tea, coffee, and calcium supplements should be used several hours before a meal that is high in iron 5.

Table 1: Iron Content of Selected Vegan Foods



Iron (mg)

Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp 7.2
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 6.6
Tofu 1/2 cup 6.6
Spinach,cooked 1 cup 6.4
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 5.2
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 4.7
Soybeans,cooked 1 cup 4.5
Tempeh 1 cup 4.5
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 4.5
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 4.3
Swiss chard, cooked 1 cup 4.0
Bagel, enriched 1 medium 3.8
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 3.6
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 3.6
Veggie hot dog, iron-fortified 1 hot dog 3.6
Prune juice 8 ounces 3.0
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 2.8
Beet greens, cooked 1 cup 2.7
Tahini 2 Tbsp 2.7
Peas, cooked 1 cup 2.5
Cashews 1/4 cup 2.0
Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup 1.9
Potato with skin 1 large 1.9
Bok choy, cooked 1 cup 1.8
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 1.7
Raisins 1/2 cup 1.5
Apricots, dried 15 halves 1.4
Soy yogurt 6 ounces 1.4
Veggie burger, commercial 1 patty 1.4
Watermelon 1/8 medium 1.4
Almonds 1/4 cup 1.3
Sesame seeds 2 Tbsp 1.2
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 1.2
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 1.2
Millet, cooked 1 cup 1.1
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 1.0
Kale, cooked 1 cup 1.0
Tomato juice 8 ounces 1.0

Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Legacy, 2018 and Manufacturer´s information.

The RDA for iron is 8 mg/day for adult men and for post-menopausal women and 18 mg/day for pre-menopausal women. Vegetarians (including vegans) may need up to 1.8 times more iron.

Table 3: Sample Menus Providing Generous Amounts of Iron

1 serving Oatmeal Plus (p. 23)† 3.8
1 serving Tempeh/Rice Pocket Sandwich (p. 94) 4.7
15 Dried Apricots 1.4
1 serving Black-Eyed Peas and Collards (p. 76) 2.1
1 serving Corn Bread (p. 21) 2.6
1 slice Watermelon 1.4
TOTAL 16.0
Cereal with 8 ounces of Soy Milk 1.5
1 serving Creamy Lentil Soup (p. 49) 6.0
1/4 cup Sunflower Seeds 1.2
1/2 cup Raisins 1.5
1 serving Spicy Sautéed Tofu with Peas (p. 103) 14.0
1 cup cooked Bulgur 1.7
1 cup cooked Spinach 6.4
sprinkled with 2 Tbsp Sesame Seeds 1.2
TOTAL 33.5

†Note: Page Numbers refer to recipes in the book Simply Vegan.

Additional foods should be added to these menus to provide adequate calories and to meet requirements for nutrients besides iron.

More information

  • Does drinking tea interfere with iron absorption?

  1. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

  2. Haddad EH, Berk LS, Kettering JD, Hubbard RW, Peters WR. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70(suppl):586S-93S.

  3. Obeid R, Geisel J, Schorr H, et al. The impact of vegetarianism on some haematological parameters. Eur J Haematol. 2002;69:275-9.

  4. Hallberg L. Bioavailability of dietary iron in man. Ann Rev Nutr 1981;1:123-147.

  5. Gleerup A, Rossander Hulthen L, Gramatkovski E, et al. Iron absorption from the whole diet: comparison of the effect of two different distributions of daily calcium intake. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;61:97-104.

If you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, or if you’re just aiming to keep your iron levels up, you probably know some of the many vegetables, fruits and grains that are good sources of iron. But did you know that not all iron is the same, and that some foods actually make it harder for your body to absorb iron?

If this is news to you, the folks at Stanford Blood Center have a how-to checklist that will help your body get the most iron out of your diet so you can stay healthy and have enough iron in reserve to donate blood to someone in need.

As the Stanford Blood Center blog explains, there are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal products and is generally easier for the body to absorb. Non-heme iron in found in vegan foods and is not as easily absorbed.

Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to make hemoglobin — the part of red blood cells that bind and carry oxygen in your blood. As the blog explains, “a vegetarian or vegan diet can make it difficult to keep your iron levels high – but contrary to popular belief, this is because of the type of iron consumed, not simply the amount.”

So, what should you eat? Here are some examples of foods with the highest amount of non-heme iron per serving:

  • Whole wheat breads, cereals, pastas, quinoa and oatmeal
  • Avocado
  • Cooked spinach and cooked mushrooms
  • Baked potato
  • Legumes, soybeans, tofu and lentils

Pairing high-iron foods with ingredients that are high in vitamin C will enhance your body’s ability to absorb iron. Some examples of nosh that’s high in vitamin C are:

  • Citrus fruits and citrus juice
  • Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Red or green bell pepper
  • Kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe and papaya

Conversely, some foods can actually hinder your body’s ability to absorb iron as well, including:

  • Coffee, tea (even decaffeinated) and soda
  • Dairy products and calcium supplements
  • Foods high in dietary fiber
  • Wine and beer

If you still need a bit more iron, you can try iron supplements and even cast iron cookware, which transmits iron to food while it’s heating. Fun fact: In 2008, Christopher Charles, PhD, and his colleagues investigated ways to treat iron deficiency anemia in Cambodia by making iron ingots shaped like a fish — a symbol of luck, health, and happiness in local folklore — that could be placed in cooking pots as an inexpensive, reusable iron supplement.

Previously: Eating for good blood: Tips for boosting iron levels and hemoglobin
Photo by Getty Images

Iron is an essential mineral that is critical for many of the body’s functions. It is needed to make proteins, such as hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein present in red blood cells that carries oxygen from our lungs to our tissues, while myoglobin helps supply oxygen to our muscles.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), men over the age of 19 have a recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 8 mg of iron. Premenopausal women have a much greater iron requirement than men. Women aged 19-50 have an RDA of 18 mg. After age 50, the number falls in line with men at 8 mg/day. Requirements are different for children under 18, as well as for pregnant or lactating women.


Plant-based (vegan) sources of iron aren’t absorbed as easily as in diets that include meat. As such, vegans need almost twice as much dietary iron each day as omnivores because of the lower intestinal absorption of iron from plant foods. Eating the following 10 foods packed with iron, together with sources of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, will improve your body’s absorption of iron. For more information iron in a plant-based diet, read this article.

1. Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder

Attention chocolate lovers! Dark chocolate (70-85% cacao solids) contains more iron, ounce for ounce, than beef – a lot more! A 3 oz. portion of cooked ground beef (70% lean meat, 30% fat) contains 2.11 mg of iron, while 3 oz. of dark chocolate boasts 10.12 mg. Chocolate pairs beautifully with oranges, so this is an easy way to group your iron and vitamin C consumption for maximum absorption.

2. Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is a somewhat unexpected source of dietary iron. Dried peach halves contain the most iron with 6.50 mg/cup, followed by prunes, apricot halves and raisins. Make sure to find dried fruit that has no sugar added. Better yet – dehydrate your own fruit! Dried peaches and apricots are amazing when dipped in melted dark chocolate and allowed to cool.

3. Blackstrap Molasses

Blackstrap molasses is a healthy sweetener. Like dark chocolate, it also kicks red meat’s butt when it comes to iron. Just 2 tsp. of molasses contains 2.39 mg of iron, for far less calories than meat and no fat. Try it in Hazelnut Cacao Torte or Spicy Gingerbread Cake.


4. Dark Leafy Greens

It is important to note that greens contain more iron when cooked than when eaten raw. Spinach is the king of all greens with a whopping 6.43 mg of iron per 1 cup (180g) when cooked. To show you the difference cooking makes, 1 cup (30g) of raw spinach contains only 0.81 mg of iron. The variance is only partially due to weight. You see, if you could eat 180g of raw spinach to equal the weight of the cooked variety, you would still only get 4.86 mg of iron instead of 6.43 mg. The next best source of iron is cooked swiss chard, with 3.95 mg/cup, followed by cooked beet greens with 2.74 mg of iron per cup. Collard greens, kale and turnip greens, all cooked, round out the top 6. Here are 35 delicious ways to eat more greens!

5. Spirulina

Spirulina, one of nature’s great superfoods, is a blue-green algae that grows in fresh water lakes. It is a complete protein, contains a significant amount of B12, as well as vitamins A through E and is rich in iron, calcium and magnesium. A tablespoon of dried spirulina contains 2 mg of iron. Try this Coconut Spirulina Energy Drink or simply throw it into the blender with your regular morning smoothie.


6. Tofu

Tofu proves its worth once again, with 2.15 mg of iron for a quarter-block serving. From silken tofu to extra firm, the possibilities to include it in your diet are nearly endless. Just make sure your are purchasing tofu made with non-GMO soybeans. Here are several tofu recipes to get you started.

7. Whole Grains

Whole grains are another great source of plant-based iron and an opportunity to add variety to your diet. Experiment with quinoa, oatmeal, barley, rice, bulgur, buckwheat and millet. Quinoa, for example, contains 2.76 mg of iron for a 1 cup serving. Try Cajun Quinoa Cakes with Lemon-Dill-Siracha Remoulade.


8. Legumes

Beans, beans, beans. You may be sick of people telling you to eat your beans, but they’re onto something. Beans provide myriad essential nutrients for our bodies, such as protein and iron. Take kidney beans for example. One cup provides 3.93 mg of iron. I immediately think of red beans and rice, but don’t limit yourself to traditional recipes. Try Black Bean and Pecan Butter Sauce over Grilled Eggplant and Sauteed Spinach or Sweet Potato and Quinoa Chili for iron-packed meals that your family is sure to love.

9. Nuts

Nuts are another one of those food groups that keep popping up in health discussions, and for good reason. Curious as to which nuts contain the most iron? Cashews take first place in a landslide, with 8.22 mg of iron in 1 cup. Almonds come in second with a very respectable 5.32 mg/cup. Macadamias and pistachios are a close third and fourth. They both contain almost 5 mg per cup, respectively. Try Chipotle Cashew Creme, Raw Chocolate Cashew Tarts, or Apple-Almond Butter Pancakes.

10. Seeds

Seeds, particularly pumpkin, squash and sesame, are a versatile source of plant-based iron. Just 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds contains 1.31 mg of iron. To put that into perspective, a whole cup of sesame seeds contains a staggering 20.95 mg! A cup of pumpkin or squash seeds have 2.12 mg of iron. Make homemade tahini for your next batch of hummus or try Herbed Chickpea and Sesame Crackers.

Image Source: SweetonVeg/Flickr


Nutritics Blog

You could say spinach was the original “superfood”. It’s long been touted for its nutritional value and recommended as a high source of iron in particular. But is it really the iron in the spinach that gave Popeye his super-human strength? Let’s investigate….

In terms of labelling? No

In order to claim that a food is a “source of” iron, a 100g portion must contain at least 15% of the recommended daily intake of iron (14mg). For a food to be classed as “high in” iron, it needs to have double this number.

Compared to its leafy friends such as kale (1.7mg/100g), the iron content of spinach is high (between 2.1 and 2.7mg/100g) , however this falls well short of the 4.2mg/100g required to declare the food “high in iron”.

So, at best spinach is a “source of” iron and not “high in” iron.

In terms of bio-availability? No

You have probably heard that a high proportion of iron in spinach has low bioavailability. This results in the majority of iron in spinach not being absorbed by the small intestine and therefore it is not usable by the body. Studies have shown that as little as 2% of iron from spinach is actually absorbed by the body . This is quite low considering the average absorption of iron from meat is around 15 -35% .

So why is this?

Firstly the form of iron found in spinach is non heme which is generally poorly absorbed in the gut compared to heme iron from animal sources. Heme iron is more resilient to changes in gastric pH and interactions from other dietary components so is more bioavailable.

Secondly, spinach has such high levels of oxalic acid. This acid is naturally present in vegetables and binds with iron which blocks its absorption in the gut. Spinach has a higher level of oxalic compared to most vegetables with an approximate concentration of 1000mg/100g .This is significantly higher than other vegetable such as kale (20mg/100g) , carrot (49mg/100g) , beetroot (67mg/100g) and soybean (497mg/100g) .

Don’t give up on spinach just yet!

Reduction of Oxalic Acid in Spinach

There is much debate about whether it is possible to decrease the concentration of oxalic acid in various vegetables and how this is best achieved (mainly through cooking).

A 2014 study found that soaking spinach at 80ºC for various periods of time can significantly reduce the concentration of oxalic acid. While soaking spinach for 80mins is pretty unrealistic for the average kitchen, a 20% reduction for 10 minutes seems achievable .

Another study found that boiling spinach for 12 – 15 minutes reduced the total soluble concentration of oxalic acid from 975mg to 477mg/100g . In general boiling has been reported to reduce oxalates by 30% to 87% .

Both cooked and raw spinach have varying & plentiful nutritional benefits besides iron and are very low in calories. For example raw spinach is higher in vitamin C and cooked is higher in folate . Eating a combination of cooked and raw spinach is the best way to ensure you are getting the best of both and keeps you from getting bored.

Combination Eating

Knowing what foods to eat and not eat with spinach can help maximise your iron absorption. Spinach should be eaten in combination with iron facilitators such as Vitamin C . Eating non heme iron rich foods with heme iron rich foods such as meat can also help increase absorption .

To ensure maximum iron absorption, it’s a good idea to avoid iron inhibitors such as phytic acid (which are high in grains and legumes), tannins, polyphenols (found in tea) and calcium when eating high non heme iron meals .

  • Shimada, Y (2014). The Effect of Soaking on the Soluble Oxalic Acid Content of Spinach. Chugokugakuen J. Vol 13, pp27-31
  • Hurrell R, Egli I. (2010) Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. Am J Clin Nutr;91:1461S-7S
  • Iron bioavailability in green leafy vegetables cooked in different utensils

    The effects of cooking utensils on the total and bioavailable iron contents of five green leafy vegetables, along with related promoters and inhibitors, were investigated. The cooked and fresh greens were analysed for moisture, total and bioavailable iron, ascorbic acid, dietary fibre, tannins, total oxalates and soluble oxalates by standard techniques. Moisture content of fresh greens ranged from 80–90%, total dietary fibre (5–11 g/100 g), oxalates (0.022–1.37 g/100 g) and tannin (41–166 mg/100 g). Cooking in different utensils had no effect on these parameters. Ascorbic acid content ranged from 8.7 to 88.3 mg/100 g in fresh greens and was reduced by 18–64% on cooking. The total and ionisable iron contents of greens ranged from 3 to 13 mg/100 g and 0.43 to 2.7 mg/100 g, respectively, and increased on cooking in iron utensil to 9.7 to 17.5 mg/100 g and 1.50 to 8.56 mg/100 g, respectively. The availability of iron, in relation to total iron, of greens cooked in iron utensils was either comparable or marginally higher than those cooked in other metallic utensils. Since the total iron content of greens cooked in iron utensils was high, the actual amount of available iron also increased. It can be concluded that cooking in iron utensils increases the total as well as the available iron content of greens.

    Are You Getting Enough Iron?

    Iron is the most abundant element on Earth, yet iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder both in the United States and the world, according to the World Health Organization.

    Iron is critical to our bodies’ ability to deliver oxygen and for proper metabolism that feeds our muscles and other organs. Women, babies, and seniors are at the highest risk for iron deficiency and anemia, which can cause decreased energy and cognitive function, and depress the immune system. But following some simple guidelines can ensure your iron levels are sufficient. Eating a balanced, healthy diet supplies plenty of iron, even for vegetarians.

    Red meat is an excellent source of iron, but you need not adopt a T-bone-only diet to get your quota of iron. Iron deficiency is as high among meat eaters as vegetarians. There are many other sources of iron-rich foods, including clams, blackstrap molasses, thyme, and turmeric. Half a cup of spinach, lentils, or garbanzo beans (chickpeas) has more iron than three ounces of sirloin or ground beef. Oysters and organ meats, especially chicken liver, are also near the top of the list of iron-rich foods but contain less iron than three tablespoons of blackstrap molasses. Some other surprisingly rich sources of iron are spices and herbs: one teaspoon of cumin provides 15% of the Daily Value (DV) for iron, while one teaspoon of thyme offers 10% of the DV. Turmeric, oregano, black pepper, and basil are also concentrated sources of iron. For a complete list of iron-rich foods, visit the National Institutes of Health iron fact sheet.

    Knowing what foods are good sources of iron is only part of the story. There are two types of iron found in foods: Animal sources of iron (heme iron), which are more absorbable by our bodies, and plant sources of iron (non-heme iron). You can boost the body’s absorption of non-heme iron by consuming foods high in vitamin C along with them.

    How food is prepared also affects its iron content. Boiling vegetables can remove a significant portion of the iron content. For instance, boiling spinach for over three minutes in a large pot removes almost 90 percent of the iron from its leaves. To minimize iron loss when cooking veggies, try steaming instead of boiling and use shorter cooking times.

    Cast iron cookware can increase the amount of iron in foods, according to a 1986 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, leach iron from the pan in an absorbable form, and can increase iron amounts substantially. For example, spaghetti sauce went from 0.61 milligrams iron to 5.77 milligrams iron per 100 grams of sauce when cooked in cast iron. Non-acidic foods still leach significant amounts. The study found that white rice cooked in an iron pan increased from 0.67 milligrams to 1.97 milligrams iron. (See also Heavy Metal: The Science of Cast Iron Cooking.)

    There are significant variations in the recommended iron intake for different groups by age and sex. Adult men require only 8 milligrams per day of iron, while adult women require 18 milligrams per day, due to menstruation. Times of high growth in infancy and during teen years, for both boys and girls, mean higher iron needs. Pregnancy is another time that calls for increased iron needs.

    Below are the recommended dietary allowances for iron in all segments of the population:

    The recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for iron in all segments of the population by age and sex.

    Source: Dietary Reference Intakes, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board

    It is important to remember that iron can also be toxic in high doses. It is unlikely to happen through a regular diet, but iron supplements are a common cause of iron overload. Be especially careful of supplements around children, who require less iron than adults (although most children’s vitamins do not contain iron unless otherwise stated on the label). Also note that most supplements provide 18 milligrams of iron, the women’s recommended dietary allowance, which is more than men and children need.

    Why We Need Iron

    An elemental component of the protein hemoglobin, iron transports oxygen throughout our bodies to each of our cells, which in turn use the oxygen to produce energy. If our body’s iron stores fall low enough, we develop iron deficiency anemia, which impairs our production of hemoglobin. Symptoms of anemia can include feeling grumpy or irritable; feeling weak or more tired than usual, especially with exercise; headaches; and problems concentrating or thinking. If the anemia progresses, additional symptoms may include a blue tinge to the whites of the eyes; brittle nails; light-headedness upon standing; pale skin color; shortness of breath; and/or a sore tongue.

    About two-thirds of the body’s iron is in the form of hemoglobin. Either a hemoglobin test or a hematocrit test (the percentage of red blood cells in your blood by volume) can be used to test for anemia.

    Because of the way iron is used in our muscles, iron deficiency can cause fatigue before it develops into anemia. The protein myoglobin performs the same task for our muscles that hemoglobin performs for our blood—storing and using oxygen. If we lack sufficient iron, we can experience muscular and general fatigue long before the deficiency is serious enough to show up as anemia, or even as decreased hemoglobin on a blood test. As much as 80 percent of the world’s population may be iron deficient, while 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia, according to the 2001 study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

    Anemia and low iron can steal your energy, but you can stay healthy by making sure to eat a variety of iron-rich foods regularly. Remember these tips:

    • Eat iron-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, legumes, red meats, clams, oysters, blackstrap molasses, thyme, basil, cumin, turmeric, and black pepper.
    • Steam leafy vegetables instead of boiling and decrease cooking times.
    • Cook in cast iron cookware.

    If you suspect you may have iron deficiency or anemia, speak to your doctor or health care provider. Always consult your doctor before making significant dietary changes.

    Rebecca Taggart is a San Francisco-based writer, teacher, and yoga instructor.

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    Vegetarian Foods High in Iron

    For people who choose not to eat meat, finding vegetarian foods high in iron can be a challenge. It is a fact that vegetarians experience a higher incidence of iron deficiency, on average, than meat eaters do. (Source: However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Pita Jungle offers an array of iron-rich menu items for vegetarians. Because the highest concentration of iron is found in meat (“heme” iron), it is crucial for vegetarians to find other iron-rich foods (“non-heme iron”) to make sure they’re getting enough of this essential mineral in their diet. The following are great non-heme sources of iron for a balanced vegetarian diet:

    • Beans

    • Dark, leafy greens

    • Dried fruits

    • Potatoes

    • Quinoa

    • Seeds and nuts

    • Tahini

    • Tofu

    Eating a vegetarian diet rich in these foods will help to ensure that your body is getting all the iron it needs to make hemoglobin, which is a component of red blood cells necessary to transport oxygen to organs in the body. (Source: Iron deficiency often leads to anemia, which can cause you to feel fatigued and prevent you from living a healthy, active lifestyle.

    Hummus: The Perfect Food to Maximize Iron Absorption

    Your body will absorb iron more efficiently if vegetarian foods high in iron are eaten in conjunction with foods that are also high in vitamin C. (Source: That is what makes hummus the perfect food to ensure optimal iron absorption. Hummus is made from chickpeas and tahini (sesame paste), both of which are very high in iron. In addition, hummus contains plenty of fresh lemon juice for a healthy dose of Vitamin C. The combination of chickpeas, tahini and lemon juice create a perfect storm for maximum iron absorption in the body.

    Visit to learn more about the many vegetarian foods high in iron available at Pita Jungle, including three delicious varieties of hummus. Stop by a Pita Jungle near you to discover “The Art of Eating Healthy®”!

    7 Iron-Rich Foods To Combat Anaemia

    Do you appear pale, feel lethargic, experience shortness of breath, constant headache and frequent chest pain? And you are just in your 20s or 30s! Despite trying to eat well, you are not able to figure out what’s wrong with you. Well, it could be your dipped haemoglobin levels or anaemia that is to be blamed. Getting a regular Hb test done is crucial to maintaining healthy Hemoglobin levels between 12 to 16 grams for women, 14 to 18 grams for men and 11 to 13 grams for children.
    Food plays the most important role in maintaining healthy Hb levels and here’s a list of 7 foods that you must include in your daily diet to avoid being anaemic, and fall in the right Hb bracket.

    1. Legumes
    Legumes like soybeans, red kidney beans and chickpeas are rich in iron, folate and vitamin C, which are necessary for the synthesis of haemoglobin.
    2. Vitamin-C rich Fruits
    Fruits like strawberries, organs, banana are rich in vitamin C which is a must-have for optimum absorption of iron from the food we eat and supplements we take. Without adequate vitamin C, iron consumption alone cannot improve your Hemoglobin levels substantially.
    3. Dry Fruits
    Dry fruits like raisins, dates and apricots are rich in iron, fiber and vitamins, are easy to include in your healthy snacking regime and can boost your Hb levels.
    4. Iron-rich Fruits
    Fruits like apples, banana and pomegranates are a rich source of iron and must be taken each day by anaemic individuals to get those pink cheeks and stay in pink of health. Mulberries and black currants too are iron-rich.
    5. Beetroot
    The dark pink juice that oozes out of beetroot aptly represents its potency to cure anaemia. The vegetable is rich in iron, vitamin C as well as folate.
    6. Herbs
    Herbs like parsley, coriander and spearmint have been used by our ancestors not just to garnish or add fresh flavour to cuisines, these herbs are rich in iron and aid haemoglobin production in our body.
    7. Nuts & Seeds
    Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pine nuts, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds too are rich in iron and help fight anaemia.
    Besides the above vegetarian options, non-vegetarian foods like liver, chicken breast, seafood and eggs can highly boost your haemoglobin levels!

    Iron is an essential mineral for the human body. Our bodies need it in order to make two very important proteins: hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells and carries oxygen from our lungs to our tissues, and myoglobin, which helps supply our muscles with life-giving oxygen. Signs of iron deficiency are said to be fatigue, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat. If you suspect that you are deficient in iron, please consult a health professional.

    It is said that those who eat plant-based diets need twice the amount of iron than those who are not, but the reality is that it all comes down to one’s intake of Vitamin C. Eating enough foods rich in Vitamin C (such as fruits) boosts the ability of one’s body to absorb iron. You can get Vitamin C from citrus fruits and even vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. When it comes to iron, try to include leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard, edamame, dry beans, tofu, tempeh, whole grains, potatoes, and seeds in your everyday diet.


    Eating a variety of these foods is the best way to include iron-rich plants in your diet, but how to you go about preparing them? That’s where we come in — we have so many ideas in store and we’re just raring to share them. From curries to crepes, these 15 iron-rich recipes are a must-try.

    1. Spinach Crepes With Creamy Mushrooms

    Think light, fluffy, and tender crepes lovingly wrapped around the most amazing creamy mushroom mix, flavored with punchy hints of garlic, shallot, and thyme. These Spinach Crepes With Creamy Mushrooms are so easy to make, take 15 minutes in total (after soaking the chickpeas the day before), and miraculously don’t fall apart or stick to the pan despite the absence of eggs and oil. The crepes themselves are made from chickpea flour and spinach, both of which are high in iron. You will fall in deep mad love with this creamy, crepey, mushroomy creation. Definitely one to put on your to-do list this week!

    2. Healthy Stuffed Potato Skins

    These Healthy Stuffed Potato Skins are the perfect quick, easy, iron-rich meal. Russet potatoes skins are stuffed with a mixture of black-eyed peas and lentils inspired by Tamil cuisine. It’s a simple meal you need to taste in order to believe. Serve with mashed potatoes on the side for even more iron!

    3. Swiss Chard Lentil Quinoa Burgers

    These Swiss Chard Lentil Quinoa Burgers are crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Lentils and quinoa give it a meaty and dense texture while Swiss chard adds a unique touch — all three ingredients are rich in iron. Top these burgers with some tahini or guacamole and then serve them on hamburger buns for a crowd-pleasing and mouth-watering lunch.


    4. Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo With Kale and Sweet Peas

    This Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo With Kale and Sweet Peas is luscious, comforting, and good for you all at the same time. The raw hulled pumpkin seeds used in the recipe are what gives it its richness, as they’re full of healthy fats and along with the kale and peas, give this recipe a boost of iron. Dairy alfredo sauce is so old school.

    5. Black-Eyed Pea Teriyaki Bowl

    When you want an easy dinner that is still nutritious, piling veggies high in a bowl and drizzling it with a delicious sauce is a solid option. This Asian-inspired Black-Eyed Pea Teriyaki Bowl, for instance, has iron-rich black-eyed peas, mushrooms, eggplant, broccoli, and a sauce made from soy sauce, molasses, tomato paste, and spices. Sometimes simplicity is best


    6. Tofu Satay

    Satay is a grilled Malaysian dish. This grilled Tofu Satay is a fresh and creative dish to include in your spring and summer cookouts. Sliced tofu is marinated in a spicy curry sauce and then grilled until it’s a little crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve with fresh or pickled veggies and Thai curry on the side, or skewer additional vegetables and grill them, to keep things simple.

    7. Korean Tempeh Steaks

    These Korean Tempeh Steaks are marinated in doenjang, a thick, chunky paste made from fermented soybeans, ketchup, and spices and then grilled so they’re flavorful and delicious. Tempeh is made from soybeans, making it rich in iron and a worthy main course to your weeknight dinner. Added to the marinade here, it gives the tempeh steaks a deep savoriness that’s rare.


    8. Red Lentil Loaf

    There are many wonderful and delicious meat-free options for your dinner plate, but if you are also gluten-free, commercially available products often don’t cut it. Enter this Red Lentil Loaf. It’s full of protein, has no oil, no soy, no nuts, and no gluten. Iron-rich lentils are the base, plus it’s packed with spinach and kale. This meaty entrée super easy to prepare and one of the things you can make a day or two before and reheat after you slice it up and top it with gravy and mashed potatoes.

    9. Roasted Red Pepper, Chickpea, and Spinach Curry

    This Roasted Red Pepper, Chickpea, and Spinach Curry is to die for! Chickpeas and spinach are blanketed in a rich, red pepper and coconut sauce. Not only is it spicy and fragrant, it is also good for you. If you’re looking for something that is rich in iron, look no further. What more could you want for dinner?

    10. Herbed Edamame Chickpea Burgers

    Edamame, chickpeas, tart lemon juice, and fresh herbs are combined to form tasty burgers. These Herbed Edamame Chickpea Burgers are paired with a herby green dressing made from coriander, mint, creamy tahini, garlic, and a squeeze lemon juice. These burgers are even more delicious when served on toasted sourdough buns with plenty of green dressing, lettuce, hummus, avocado, and sauerkraut. Don’t forget the fries!

    11. Thai Basil Tofu

    This Thai Basil Tofu is a super-easy recipe to make, especially when you have that half-block of tofu lingering in your refrigerator, but even if you don’t, it’s an entrée worth buying ingredients for. Tofu is sautéed in oil and then mixed with a simple Thai basil sauce that’s spicy with cooling herbal notes. Serve it for dinner or bring it along to work or school as an easy lunch with noodles, quinoa, or rice.

    12. Rajmah: Indian Red Beans

    Simple, home-style dishes like Rajmah, also known as Indian Red Beans, are the perfect weeknight meal. Infused with simple Indian flavors, the core of this dish is loaded with two iron-rich ingredients: red beans and lentils. Serve with greens like spinach on the side and a hefty portion of brown rice.

    13. Tempeh Sloppy Joes

    Many of us can remember those weeknights during our childhood where sloppy joes were on the dinner menu. This recipe for Tempeh Sloppy Joes recreates them with sautéed tempeh and vegetables, covered in a lightly seasoned tomato sauce. Just like the original recipe, these sloppy joes are easy to make and most importantly, amazingly satisfying!


    14. Fresh Spinach Quiche

    Savory and satisfying, this Fresh Spinach Quiche is a wonderful spring dish loaded with greens, legumes, and other healthy ingredients. Enjoy it as the recipe dictates or throw in some broccoli, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, or your favorite herbs. The nutritional yeast gives this quiche a slightly cheesy undertone, but if you’d like more of a kick, mix in some red chili flakes or drizzle Sriracha upon serving.

    15. Green Edamame Spinach Hummus Pesto

    This Green Edamame Spinach Hummus Pesto gets its name from its uniqueness. Edamame, cooked spinach, and tahini are blended together to create a sauce unlike any other. It’s smooth like hummus in its texture, yet it tastes like pesto. Serve it over pasta or enjoy it as a dip.

    Lead image source: Herbed Edamame Chickpea Burger


    Our ebook: “The Perfect Mix”

    These quick, no-bake snack balls are rich in nutrition

    Last Updated October 24, 2019

    Low iron levels? These Iron Bites should do the trick.

    They are chock full of whole foods that naturally contain large amounts of iron.

    The ingredients came together easily in our Vitamix. They are bite sized and perfect for snacking.

    Go make yourself a batch and notice how much more energy you suddenly have!

    A delicious treat that solves a common problem

    For years my family (including myself) thought I was a “low-energy” person. Although my skin would tan in the summer, I always had a kind of washed-out look. I’d bruise easily and heal slowly.

    Turns out, I was just really deficient in iron.

    There’s a classic story from my childhood in which my pediatrician says she has no idea how I am alive and breathing with levels so low.

    I had been a vegetarian for years at that point. And was used to people saying “you don’t eat meat? how do you get protein and iron?” To which I would reply “I don’t know… cheese?”

    Making sure my diet was balanced was not a huge priority.

    So I took iron supplements. For years.

    I didn’t like the way they made me feel at all, but I knew anemia was not fun either.

    Through college I continued a vegetarian diet and a daily iron pill.

    But guess what? My levels were still low. I was still lethargic and pale and still bruised like a peach.

    Until I decided to skip the supplement and eat my iron instead.

    I googled foods that had high levels and added them to my diet.

    Instant success.

    Never has a change in diet impacted my daily life so drastically. I suddenly had energy!

    Energy led to working out which led to wanting to live a healthier life in general. It led to balancing my meals, and caring about what I put into my system.

    It led me to where I am today.

    Which is 6 months pregnant with the highest levels of iron I’ve ever had. I swear my doctor almost high-fived me the other day.

    Iron in an integral nutrient for a fetus and many pregnant women are lacking.

    They check your levels over the course of 9 months. Making sure you’re giving your baby it’s best chances for development.

    I’ve been getting my daily iron from things like our morning green juice and our detox salad. But I also wanted to create something that was quick & easy and helped ensure I was getting my daily dose.

    So without further ado, may I introduce the Iron Bite.

    I have crammed every (non-vegetable) food that is high in iron into a 2-bite snack. And I gotta say, they are delicious.

    They remind me of Kind Bars: sweet, sticky and nutritious.

    I threw all of the ingredients into our Vitamix. This is one of those recipes where you’ll need a tamper. Not sure they will come together without it.

    Go make a batch of these nutrient-rich, delicious morsels for anyone in your life who is lacking in iron (especially those pregnant mommas)!


    • Yield: 16 balls
    • You’re needed for:10 minutes
    • Until it’s done:10 minutes
    • 4.7 out of 5 based on 16 user ratings
    • Shalva Gale

    A 2-bite iron-rich snack that’s sticky and sweet.




    1. Add molasses, dates and apricots to Vitamix container.
    2. Ramp from variable speed 1-10.
    3. Use the tamper to push ingredients into the blades from the corners.
    4. Blend on high for 1-2 minutes.
    5. Add the rest of the ingredients.
    6. Pulse on medium 15-20 times to combine ingredients.


    1. Mix oats and coconut on a small plate.
    2. Use your hands to roll golfball sized pieces of the mixture.
    3. Roll in the oats and coconut.
    4. Snap a pic and tag #lifeisNOYOKE
    5. Enjoy immediately or cover and eat within the week (freeze for up to one month).

    Useful tips for Iron Bites

    If you don’t like one of the ingredients, omit it!

    If you don’t have one of the ingredients, make them without!

    These bites have so many good things packed in, so don’t worry if you’re missing a couple.

    SUPPORT = 💚

    Life is NOYOKE takes us hundreds of hours every month to create and maintain.

    If you appreciate what we do, please consider supporting our work by using our referral links to make purchases. It’s free for you and every bit helps.

    Vegetarian iron rich food

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