Facts About Iron and Plant-Based Sources

nutrition plant-based Jul 16, 2019

Iron is an essential nutrient in our diets. Although red meat and seafood are good sources of iron, many plant-based foods also contain plenty of this mineral.

Numerous vegetables, legumes, and other foods contain a form of iron called nonheme iron, which accounts for the majority of people's iron intake in the United States. The type of iron in animal products is called heme iron.

Although the body can absorb it more easily, heme iron is not essential to the human diet.

If you are not receiving enough iron in your diet the symptoms may include:

  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • poor appetite
  • headaches
  • pale skin
  • heart palpitations
  • cold hands and feet
  • brittle nails

Plant-Based Sources of Iron

  • Legumes - lentils, tofu, tempeh, lima beans, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas
  • Grains - quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal
  • Nuts and seeds - pumpkin, squash, pine, pistachio, sunflower, cashews, unhulled sesame
  • Vegetables - spinach, baked potato with skin, tomato sauce, Swiss chard, collard greens
  • Other - dried apricots, blackstrap molasses, prune juice, dark chocolate (only as an occasional treat)

You can increase the amount of iron your body absorbs by eating iron-rich foods alongside a source of vitamin C. Studies have shown that eating smaller meals that include calcium-containing foods allow for better absorption.

Good sources of vitamin C include:

  • bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • cantaloupe melon
  • cauliflower
  • citrus fruits
  • kiwi fruit
  • leafy green vegetables
  • mango
  • papaya
  • strawberries
  • sweet potatoes
  • tomatoes

You should avoid foods, beverages, and supplements that reduce iron absorption for up to 2 hours before and after iron-rich meals. They include:

  • black tea
  • calcium supplements
  • coffee
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • peppermint tea
  • red wine

Antacid medications inhibit iron absorption.


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