Iron is one of the most prevalent deficiencies in the world. However, iron-deficiency anaemia is not more prevalent among vegans & vegetarians than omnivores. Women need more iron (14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50 as opposed to 8.7mg for men over 18). Here are my best tips for getting enough.
1. Eat legumes.
These are a great source of iron with 3-6mg of iron per 1 cup of lentils/beans or per 1/2 cup of tofu or edamame beans.
2. Oatmeal for breakfast.
Porridge with pumpkin seeds and dried fruit such as dates would make a tasty iron-rich breakfast. 3/4 cup of cooked oatmeal has 4.5-6.5mg of iron.
3. Pair iron-rich foods with Vitamin C.
This is so important! Vegans get more than 1.5x the amount of Vit C as non-vegetarians which is a huge help. Absorption from iron-rich plant foods increases significantly when eaten at the same time as foods high in Vit C. So pair your broccoli with red peppers (high in vit C), your porridge with berries, lentils with collard greens or your green beans with a squeeze of lemon juice.
4. Don’t drink black tea, coffee or red wine with meals
Absorption of iron decrease significantly due to the tannins and polyphenols present in these drinks. So wait an hour after your porridge for that English Breakfast Tea (note to self ☺️).
5. Onions and garlic.
The yummy base to many meals, onions and garlic can increase the availability of iron (and zinc!) from legumes and grains by 50% which further boosts iron intake.
6. Dark chocolate.
Yes dark chocolate is a sweet way to add iron to your diet in small quantities, perfect for that time of the month too. A 50g serving (70-85% cacao solids) has almost 6mg of iron.
5. Check before supplementing.
Sometimes multivitamins can contain high levels of iron. Excess iron can act as a prooxidant negatively impacting health, so check your iron status with a blood test at the doctor’s before you start taking a supplement. It may be recommended for women who have very heavy periods. But whenever possible, iron-rich plant foods combined with foods rich in Vitamin C is always best.