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). This is not only the case 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. Approximately 70% 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. 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 really are loaded with 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 of iron per day. Menstruating or lactating women need 15 mg and pregnant women 30 mg per day.
Where to find iron on a plant based diet?
Definitely number 1 is spirulina. This is a great superfood and you’ll need only 1 teaspoon per day. I always add one teaspoon in my morning smoothie. This is already 5 mg of iron. Build it up slowly if you find the taste of your smoothie being less tasty because of it. Eventually you will not notice anything of the taste. Instead you can focus on the tablet form which you can easily take with water.
There are so many sources of iron on a plant based diet. My favorite (and also quite high in iron) 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. (source)
If you’re still worried that you may get too little iron per day, consider the following.
- a handful of spinach contains about 1 mg of iron
- half a cup of black beans contains about 5 mg of iron
- half a cup of chickpeas contains about 6 mg iron
- half a cup of quinoa contains about 4 mg of iron
- half cup of oats contains about 4 mg of iron
- half cup of lentils contains about 3.5 mg of iron
- a handful of cashew contains 3 mg iron
- a tablespoon of raw cocao contains about 3 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 and without even thinking about it you have added more than 10 mg of iron. 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? Packed with iron! Also, blackstrap molasses is loaded with iron.
As you can see, there are numerous ways to get enough iron if you are on a plant based diet. Make some delicious combinations and you will eat healthy, delicious meals that are loaded with iron.