As I previously mentioned, the question I used to get asked the most regarding my vegan diet and my husband’s vegetarian one is: “How do you get your proteins?”. However, the fact that proteins are so easily found within the veggie lifestyles is more and more common knowledge. Now, there is a new one: “How do you get enough iron?”. With this post, I aim to answer that question to the best of my knowledge, which includes nearly a decade of veganism/vegetarianism, lots of online research and optimal blood tests.
First of all, why is iron an essential nutrient? Because it’s a central part of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the blood. Lack of iron results in anaemia, which is more common than we think and is just as much of a problem with omnivores as it is with vegans/vegetarians. In fact, studies have demonstrated that it is no more common amongst vegans/vegetarians.
There are 2 types of iron:
- Heme iron: which is well absorbed when consumed and makes up approximately 40% of the iron we find in meat, poultry and fish.
- Non-heme iron: which is not as well absorbed and makes up approximately 60% of the iron we find in animal tissues and 100% of the iron in plants.
This means that vegans and vegetarians need to be knowledgeable regarding food rich in iron and how to make sure it is well absorbed. Interesting fact: vegetarian food is, in big part, richer in iron than animal-derived one. As per example, for 100 calories of cooked lentils you get 2.9mg of iron vs. 0.9mg for 100 calories of sirloin steak. Impressive, eh?
How to make sure iron is well absorbed? You combine it with vitamin C and you avoid taking calcium rich food 30 minutes before and after. That’s another plus for vegans/vegetarians as our diets are rich in vitamin C, which increase absorption by up to six-fold!
Delicious and quick way to maintain your iron levels up:
- Simply mix one teaspoon of blackstrap molasses in a cup of boiling water and add a slice of lemon every morning.
- A nice cup of nettle tea
So you see, it can be that simple!
Here’s a table giving you iron levels of different foods, which I hope you will find useful! There are obviously many more items that can be added to the list but I believe this will give you a good idea.
How do you guys ensure you get enough iron? What are your tricks and habits?
P.S. Dark chocolate is also a source of iron… 😉