Notable Nutrition Notes: Vegetarians & Iron

If you’re eating red meat on a pretty regular basis, you probably haven’t given the thought of getting enough iron in your diet a second thought.

However, if you eat primarily a plant based diet, or if you consider yourself to be a vegetarian or vegan, iron is something worth mentioning.  This is especially true if you’re female, as your needs are more than twice that of a man’s (finally, we get to eat more of something! 😉 )

First, some basic info.  There are two types of iron.

Heme Iron: the more absorbable kind, found in meat products (liver, beef, dark meat from turkey, etc.)

Non-Heme Iron: the less absorbable kind found in plant-based products (i.e., black beans, dark leafy greens, iron enriched cereals, fortified tofu, lentils, raisins, etc.)

The Non-Heme iron has its issues.  While 15-35% of the heme iron is absorbed in our bodies, only 2-20% of the non-heme iron is absorbed.  This can be problematic if a vegetarian (or a non-red meat eating individual) isn’t eating a whole lot of iron containing foods in the first place.

What to do??!!??

Well.  There are some strategies.

  • Eat Vitamin C with your meals.  Adding some cantaloupe or diced bell peppers or kiwi & strawberries or broccoli or potatoes (the list goes on and on) to your meal will help to enhance the amount of iron that is absorbed, giving you the optimum amount possible.
  • Sip tea and coffee between meals, not during.  They contain tannins and polyphenols which can actually interfere with the absorption of iron.  Not a good thing!
  • Add meat, fish or poultry to your meal.  If you’re not a vegetarian, adding even a small amount of these foods can really amp up how much iron you absorb.  If you ARE vegetarian, focus primarily on including some vitamin C rich foods with each meal.

How you turn all of this information into a tasty meal is up to you…just have fun with it!

Lately, I’ve been really into adding fruit to my salads.  Cantaloupe snuggled in between some greens and then drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sea salt is out of this world.

  • mixed greens
  • black beans (iron rich!)
  • avocado
  • walnuts
  • tomato and cantaloupe (vitamin C rich!)
  • cucumber

The Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Chips?  That piece of dark chocolate for dessert?  The scoop of honey roasted peanut butter eaten straight from the jar?

Well.  That was just because.  Just because.

QUESTION: Do you eat mostly heme or non-heme iron sources?  What are some of your favorite food-based iron sources?

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6 comments on “Notable Nutrition Notes: Vegetarians & Iron

  1. you know what’s funny…you just left me a comment and i clicked over to your site yesterday with your last post, was going to comment and got sidetracked.

    just want to say hi and your pics are gorg!

  2. Oh this post is PERFECT timing for me! I was just talking to my mum last night that I need to find ways of getting more iron in my diet. I eat mainly non-heme sources of iron as I can’t eat red meat, fish, eggs and I also can’t eat most legumes, which causes problems with getting enough iron (clearly, my stomach hates me :P). However, I love spinach, dried fruits and whole grains. Black strap molasses is also a good source of iron and it tastes really good on oatmeal and in baked goods!

    I had no idea drinking tea during your meals affected the absorption of iron – so that’s good to know!

  3. Nicole says:

    So I was JUST talking to Nate yesterday about how I need to add more iron to my diet. 🙂 Perfect timing!

  4. Tracey says:

    being anemic and vegan,I have found that during the cold months I like to eat malto-meal with black strap molasses on it for breakfast.It is harder in the summer months,So I take take Iron with vitamin C ,I also take B12 supplement ,and calcium with vitamin D as well.I try to get the vitamins in food mostly,but find I need the extra help to get enough.

  5. BroccoliHut says:

    Great post! I just did a post about vegetarian nutrition for runners, and I touched on the importance of iron in the diet as well. I get most of my iron from non-heme sources, but now that I eat fish, it’s much less of a concern for me.

  6. Great post! My iron was low at my last doctor’s appointment because I run long distance, donate blood regularly, and hardly eat heme iron sources. I was told to supplement, but I hate supplementing because it really constipates you. I don’t have any symptoms of iron deficiency, so what’s the big deal?

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