Why is iron important? Iron is not mentioned a lot, but it’s by far one of the most common mineral deficiencies (especially in women), but w to find iron on a plant-based diet?
Why is iron important?
Iron is vital, because the main task of iron is to carry oxygen around in the body. A lot of the iron in the body goes to the hemoglobin in our red blood cells. These ensure our body of oxygen, so that tissue and muscle can function properly. If you have too little iron in your body then you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells, which can result in feeling exhausted and tired. Having too much iron in the body is also not a good thing. It can have many other effects on your body, for it influences almost all of the body functions. From our brain to the ability of our immune system to fight infections. Iron is certainly an important mineral.
Types of iron
In our diet there are two different types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal products such as fish, meat, poultry and eggs and can easily be absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron can be found in plant based foods such as potatoes, nuts, seeds and vegetables and is not as easily to be absorbed by the body.
Also, coffee, tea and calcium will reduce the absorption of both heme iron and non-heme iron. Vitamin C on the other hand will actually increase the absorption of non-heme iron.
If you are on a plant based diet, it’s important to be aware of your iron intake. Because non-heme iron is more difficult to be absorbed, you’ll have to make sure you’re getting enough iron in order to avoid deficiencies. Don’t worry, the good news is that there are plenty of great plant-based foods that contain iron and are delicious as well. In addition, many plant based foods also contain a lot of vitamin C and this will make the non-heme iron far more easily to be absorbed.
How much iron do we need?
Generally, men and non-menstruating women need about 10 mg per day (man: 9-11 mg; women: 15 – 16mg). Menstruating or lactating women need 11-20 mg iron. source Nevo
Where to find iron on a plant based diet?
Spirulina contains iron. This is a great superfood and you’ll only need 1 or 2 teaspoons per day. I always add two teaspoons in my smoothie. This provides about 0.22 mg of iron. Slowly build this up if you find the taste of your smoothie a bit less tasty. Eventually you will not taste the spirulina anymore. Or get the spirulina tablets that you can take with water.
There are so many sources of iron on a plant based diet. My favorite are lentils. But in oatmeal, quinoa, other legumes, seeds such as pumpkin and sesame, nuts such as cashews, almonds or pine nuts and vegetables such as spinach there is also iron.
If you’re still worried that you may get too little iron per day, consider the following.
- 340 grams of spinach (that is quite easy to get in) contains about 9.21 mg of iron
- one cup (100 grams) of black beans contains about 9 mg of iron
- one cup (100 grams) chickpeas contains about 2.89 mg iron
- one cup (100 grams) cooked quinoa contains about 1.49 mg of iron
- one cup (100 grams) of oats contains about 4.25 mg of iron
- one cup (100 grams) of cooked lentils contains about 3.3 mg of iron
- 50 grams of cashew contains 3.34 mg iron
- a tablespoon (5 mg) of cacao contains about 0.36 mg of iron
A smoothie is the perfect time to make sure you’re getting enough iron. A smoothie with spinach, a teaspoon of spirulina powder and fruits (vitamin C for better absorption) is already a perfect base for the rest of the day.
Make sure that you add some iron to your lunch or dinner with beans or legumes. Also a tip, drizzle some pumpkin seeds on your salad or soup or make a dressing with cashewnuts. Or what about hummus as a snack?
As you can see, there are numerous ways to get enough iron if you eat a plant-based diet. Variation, vitamin C and plenty of food is important. But there are so many delicious combinations possible, so this shouldn’t be too difficult. What is your favorite source of iron?