Iron is an essential part of every diet. Since meat is one of the most well-known sources for iron, many vegetarians and vegans worry about their iron levels. Fortunately, there are many vegetarian foods that are rich iron sources and are easy to incorporate into your everyday diet. Here is a list of some of the best iron rich vegetarian foods.
What is Iron and Why is Iron Necessary?
Humans need iron to carry out a variety of important physiological functions. One of these functions includes the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. This is especially important for athletes!
Outside of hemoglobin production, iron is important for proper immune system functioning because it is involved in the production of immune cells. It is also a key component of health brain functioning, it is necessary for the brain to produce neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals in the brain and throughout the body.
For these reasons, it is essential to get enough iron rich foods in your diet, especially for infants, young children, and people with heavy menstrual periods. Iron is an important part of development and is particularly important for pregnant women because it is necessary for the growth and development of the fetus.
Vegetarian or not, iron is an essential nutrient that our bodies need to function properly! It helps transport oxygen throughout your body, keeps your immune system strong, and helps keep you full of energy. And the good news is there are plenty of delicious and nutritious iron-rich foods that are perfect for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
Iron Rich Vegetarian Foods To Add Into Your Diet
Here is a list of some of the best iron rich vegetarian foods. There are plenty of food items on the list that are great for snacking alone or can be a great addition to meals you already make.
- Black beans
- Cannellini beans
- Kidney beans
Legumes are a good source of iron and a common addition to many popular meals like burrito bowls and stir fry.
Lentils are powerhouses that pack a punch for iron, they contain 6.6 milligrams of iron per 100 grams. They’re also loaded with fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients!
Chickpeas are a super versatile legume and a great source of iron. They have 4.7 milligrams of iron per 100 grams. They’re perfect for adding to salads, soups, and even making hummus!
Tofu is a well-known food item among vegetarians. With 3.6 milligrams of iron per 100 grams it’s also a great source of protein. A staple for many vegetarians! One serving of tofu can provide up to 6.6 mg of iron.
2. Nuts and Seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Flax seeds
- Pine nuts
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
Whether you are consuming them by the handful, grinding them into butter, or topping your favorite bowls and salads with hem. Nuts and seeds are a some of the best iron rich vegetarian food items you can eat!
Pumpkin seeds are crunchy little seeds that can be found in practically any store. They are packed with iron, containing 7 milligrams per 100 grams. Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of healthy fats and other nutrients that will keep you feeling great.
Sesame seeds may be tiny but have so much flavor. They pack a big iron punch, with 9 milligrams per 100 grams. They’re also a great source of calcium, making them a great choice for vegetarians. They are perfect for adding into homemade bread and crackers or on top of your favorite savory bowl.
3. Whole Grains
- Brown rice
- Fortified cereals
Quinoa is an ancient grain and can be found in a lot of crackers, chips, breads, and restaurant bowls these days. It is a grain that is a complete protein and contains all the essential amino acids your body needs. Another bonus for those seeking out the best iron rich vegetarian foods, it contains 2.8 milligrams of iron per 100 grams.
Cereal does not have to be just a childhood favorite. In fact, adults should indulge too. Many cereals are fortified which means they have healthy doses of iron for your diet. Do keep in mind thought that not all breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, so check the label to see if they contain iron.
4. Dark, Leafy Greens
- Collard greens
- Swiss chard, etc.
Spinach is a commonly used leafy green and is a classic iron-rich food. It has 2.7 milligrams of iron per 100 grams. You can easily add it to smoothies, pasta dishes, or even your morning eggs. It’s packed with antioxidants and other nutrients that will make you feel amazing!
Kale is also rich in iron and is commonly used in salads and can be eaten raw and marinated in citrus juices, sauteed, or however you like it best.
5. Other Vegetables
- Tomato paste
- Palm hearts
- Artichoke Hearts
Potatoes are great prepared in a variety of ways and a staple in many diets. One medium potato provides 2 mg of iron so loud up! Artichokes and squash also have a good amount of iron and are great less traditional veggies to add to your diet.
6. Dried & Fresh Fruits
- Prune juice
There are a variety of dried fruits that are high in iron and super tasty. These make some great on the go snacks! Dried Apricots are sweet and chewy treats and great source of iron They have 3.5 milligrams of iron per 100 gram serving. Another bonus is that they are full of fiber and other essential nutrients.
Other dried fruits like raisins, apricots, and prunes are also high in iron and easy to eat on the go. Whether you eat them alone or mixed with nuts and seeds this is one of the best iron rich vegetarian foods you can easily consume daily.
7. Other Iron-Rich Food Items
- Coconut milk
- Dark chocolate
- Blackstrap molasses
- Dried thyme
The above list is some of the less traditional iron rich food items that can be added to your snacks and meals. Adding coconut milk to your soups or smoothies if great for a creamy finish and an extra bit of iron. Into salty earth snacks? Seaweed is an ocean-grown plant, and most would not guess that it is a great source of iron. It has 1.5 milligrams or iron per 100 grams and is an easy on the go snack or perfect sushi pairing.
How Much Iron Do You Need as a Vegetarian?
The recommended daily allowance of iron for adults varies based on age and gender, but generally ranges from 8-18 mg per day.
Many vegetarians worry about their iron levels since they do not eat meat which is a very iron rich food source. Lack of meat in a vegetarian diet makes it extra important to get enough iron from non-meat sources so that your daily iron needs are met.
Can You Raise Your Iron Levels as a Vegetarian?
If you are a vegetarian and are concerned about low iron levels, there are several ways to increase your iron intake. First and foremost, you should make a strong effort to eat a variety of iron rich foods vegetarian foods but there are other things you can do and include into your diet to assist with increasing iron levels.
1. Vitamin C
Along with the consumption of iron rich vegetarian foods, it is also important for vegetarians to consume foods that are rich in vitamin. Why more vitamin C do you ask? Vitamin C can help improve iron absorption of iron from plant-based foods. When people take iron supplements, they often pair it with vitamin C drinks to help get the full effect.
Some good sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, and broccoli. Try mixing a variety of iron rich vegetarian foods and vitamin C rich vegetarian foods to get the full benefits!
2. Fortified Foods
An easy way to get iron into your diet through food is to choose fortified foods. Some breakfast cereals, plant milks, and other foods are fortified with iron so check your typical food items and see if there is perhaps a fortified option.
3. Cast Iron Pans
Another way to increase your daily iron intake is to cook your delicious iron rich vegetarian foods in a cast iron pan! Most people are familiar with cast iron pans, they are often considered to be a camping pan, but they are also great for indoor cooking! When you cook your food in a cast iron pan, it can add iron to your diet.
This is especially true if you are using acidic ingredients like tomatoes or vinegar, which can help to leach iron from the pan into your food. So next time you are whipping up your favorite veggie loaded pasta with marinara sauce, consider sautéing your veggies and simmering your sauce in a cast iron pan.
Some of the best iron rich vegetarian foods are foods that you probably already eat and love. Making sure to keep these a regular part of your diet is a great way to make sure you maintain healthy iron levels. There are plenty of iron rich vegetarian foods out there so get creative and try combining different ones to make bowls, wraps, smoothies, and soups. Whatever the occasion is, iron can surely be a part of it! Get those iron levels boosted!