Iron 101 for Vegetarians & Vegans
There's a common belief that individuals who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet don't get enough iron. Surprisingly, vegetarian and vegan diets often provide high levels of iron. Studies have actually found that vegetarians eat the same or more iron than omnivores (1). So why is there concern about iron in these groups?
Iron consumed by vegetarians (also known as non-heme iron) is poorly absorbed compared to iron in animal foods (heme iron)(2). As a result, in Canada and the US, the Estimated Average Requirement (or EAR) for iron is set at a level 80% higher for vegetarians and vegans than for those with a mixed diet (3).
But don't worry, there's still lots of ways you can get enough dietary iron if you are vegetarian or vegan. Here are some ideas to keep you healthy and strong:
1) Make Wise Food Choices
Choose foods that are rich in iron at each meal. Good sources of iron include:
- Iron fortified bread, cereals, and pasta.
- Beans (navy, kidney, black) and lentils.
- Peas (chickpeas, split, black-eyed).
- Tofu and Tempeh.
- Dried fruit.
- Chia seeds.
- Pumpkin seeds and squash seeds.
For more ideas about iron rich food choices click here.
2) Harness Food Combinations
Some nutrients enhance your iron absorption. You may know that vitamin C is a powerhouse for supporting healthy immunity, but did you know that it also helps with non-heme iron absorption? Here are some tips to put this into practice:
- Include citrus fruit or strawberries with your breakfast cereal or whole grain toast.
- Snack on bell peppers with hummus.
- Steam broccoli and Brussel sprouts to accompany your tofu dish.
- Prepare a tropical fruit salad of guava, papaya, and kiwi to eat after your black bean burrito and guacamole.
- Enjoy your dried fruit and nut trail mix with sliced pineapple or orange sections.
- Blend a spinach, chia seed, and frozen fruit smoothie.
3) Consider Supplementation
If you are having difficulty maintaining your iron levels, then the Lucky Iron Fish may be a great option for you. This little iron-shaped ingot is an innovative answer to iron deficiency. The Fish is placed in boiling liquid for 10 minutes and releases about 2-7 mg of iron into a litre of water. This dose of iron is not more than the daily Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for iron for adults.
The Lucky Iron Fish is a nice option for gently supplementing your diet without the challenging side effects of the higher doses of iron found in conventional supplements. While severe iron deficiency may require conventional supplementation, the Lucky Iron Fish offers a handy proactive solution to iron deficiency for vegetarians and vegans. Give it a try and see how it works for you!
As an added bonus, Lucky Iron Fish is committed to ending iron deficiency. For every Lucky Iron Fish you buy, a Fish is donated to another community in need as part of our Impact program. Now that’s something to feel energized about!
- Alexander D, Ball MJ, Mann J. Nutrient intake and haematological status of vegetarians and age-sex matched omnivores. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994;48:583-546.
- Hunt JR. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(suppl):633S-639S.
- Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. 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.