Lots of people assume that vegetarians struggle to get iron in their diets. And while it’s true that the type of iron found in animal products—called heme iron—is more readily absorbed by the body, there are also numerous sources of plant-based or nonheme iron that are surprisingly rich in this vital mineral.
To help enhance the absorption of nonheme iron, it’s a good idea to pair these high-iron vegan foods with a source of vitamin C. And you’ll want to avoid taking a calcium supplement or consuming dairy while you are eating iron-rich foods, as calcium can block the absorption of iron. If you’re a tea drinker, avoid drinking tea together with your meals, as the tannins in tea can also prevent your body from absorbing iron.
How much iron do you need in your diet? Depends on who you are! The following requirements are taken from the Food and Nutrition Board’s Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for iron:
- Women of childbearing age should get 18 mg of iron each day.
- Men from 18 to 50 years of age should get 8 mg of iron daily.
- Pregnant women should get 27 mg of iron each day.
Specific recommendations for vegetarians are 1.8 times higher, accounting for the lower absorption of nonheme iron.
So, where can you find your iron? It might surprise you how easy it is to come by on a plant-based diet!
10 High-Iron Vegan Foods
Spirulina – A 1-ounce serving of this blue-green algae contains 8 mg of iron or 44% of the RDA for non-pregnant women. Plus, when people ask you how you get your iron, you can look them in the eye and say, “…from pond scum!”
Tofu or tempeh – Not only do soy products contain a good source of plant-based protein, a 6 oz serving of tofu contains 3.6 mg of iron or 20% of your RDA.
Lentils – These lovely little legumes are a rich source of protein, and a ½-cup serving contains 3.3 mg of iron or 18% of your RDA.
Dark chocolate – If you need an excuse to indulge in a little bit of dark chocolate, here it is: A 1-ounce serving contains 3.3 mg of iron or 18% of your RDA.
Oats – Start your day with a serving of oats, and you’ll be well on your way to meeting your iron needs. A 1-cup serving of cooked oats contains 3.4 mg of iron or 18% of your RDA.
Potatoes – Potatoes are actually a great nutrition source, containing vitamin C and potassium, plus you get loads of fiber if you leave the skin on. One large, unpeeled potato contains 3.2 mg of iron or 18% of your RDA.
Spinach – Popeye was on to something with all that spinach he was eating. Half a cup of cooked spinach contains 3.2 mg of iron, or 18% of your RDA. Note! Cooking the spinach is important as not only does half a cup of cooked spinach contain a lot more than uncooked, but the cooking process makes the iron more absorbable by your body.
Chickpeas – Calling all hummus lovers! A half-cup of cooked chickpeas contains 3 mg of iron, 17% of your RDA.
Quinoa – Not only is this super seed a great source of plant-based protein, one cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8 mg of iron, or 16% of your RDA.
Mushrooms – Yup, even mushrooms are a good source of iron. One cup of cooked brown mushrooms contains 2.7 mg iron or 15% of your RDA.
If you want to ensure you’re getting even more iron in your diet, do your cooking in cast iron pans. Cooking any acidic foods, like tomatoes or citrus, in cast iron actually leeches a bit of iron from the pans and into your food.
So as you can see, it’s relatively simple to get enough iron each and every day, even on a plant-based diet, with these iron-rich vegan foods.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified physician with over 20 years of experience in practice. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before using this recipe to determine what’s best for you.5