Sources of Iron In A Vegetarian Diet. What You Need To Know.


Finding good sources of iron can be a cause for concern for a number of reasons.

  • Iron is vital to the human body
  • Iron deficiency is the most common worldwide nutritional deficiency
  • Vegetarian sources of iron can be less well absorbed by the body    

For these reasons, it's good to be aware of the facts on iron.  But there's no need to panic.  A balanced vegetarian diet can provide all of the iron you need.  Here's what you need to know.


So why do we need iron?
Iron is crucial to our bodies because it is required for making the haemoglobin found in red blood cells.  These red blood cells transport oxygen to all of the cells in the human body and insufficient iron in the diet can lead to anaemia.  The symptoms of anaemia include:
  • breathlessness
  • excessive tiredness
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • a decreased resistance to infection.

Babies, teenagers, women of child-bearing age and the elderly are most at risk of anaemia.  On average an adult male needs about 8.7mg of iron a day. For women the figure is significantly higher - 14.8mg, so women need to be especially aware of their iron intake.


Sources of Iron
Good vegetarian sources are:

  • Lentils and Beans e.g. chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • Nuts and seeds e.g. pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
  • Dried fruit, especially apricots, prunes and figs
  • Whole grains e.g. brown rice
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Dark-green leafy vegetables e.g. watercress, spinach and kale
  • Brewers yeast
  • Molasses

Some typical values:

100g/4oz chickpeas 3mg
100g/4oz tofu 3.5mg
1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds 1.8mg
4 dried figs 3.4mg
Bowl of fortified breakfast cereal 3.5mg
100g/4oz cooked spinach 4mg
Small glass of red wine 1mg


Helping your body to absorb iron:

The absorption of iron is influenced by the food consumed with it. Vitamin C greatly increases absorption so try to include it in your meals. Good sources are tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, peppers, oranges, strawberries and kiwi fruit.

Absorption of iron can be inhibited by some foods. Tea and coffee contain polyphenols, compounds which inhibit the absorption of iron so cutting down on tea and coffee, or at least avoiding it at meal times can be beneficial.

The Good News
Vegetarians do not appear to suffer from anaemia in greater numbers than meat-eaters. As long as you are eating a balanced diet, there is no reason to expect that you will suffer from iron deficiency.

If you are a new vegetarian and want to know more about eating a balanced vegetarian diet, do also take a look at this page about the best sources of protein. You also need to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin B12.

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