How To Get The Iron Your Body Needs On A Plant-Based Diet

No matter what your diet is a lot of us suffer from an iron deficiency. And one common misconception is that the only way to get enough iron is to eat red meat. But today I want to show you how this is not true at all. In fact, it is a common myth that vegans and vegetarians have a low iron intake. However, that is just that a myth! The American Dietetic Association reported that vegans actually get more iron than all other diet types. This is because they eat more green leafy vegetables and beans than those with other diets.

Why do we need iron?

Well, iron is a mineral, and its main purpose is to carry oxygen in the haemoglobin of red blood cells throughout the body so cells can produce energy. Iron also helps remove carbon dioxide. Without adequate iron, there is the risk of anaemia which can lead to further health problems such as excessive fatigue and illnesses. For the body to function properly and optimally, adequate iron needs to be included in the diet.

To find out if you are iron deficient just ask your doctor for a blood test.

How much iron do you need?

There is no one answer for this sadly. It depends on things like your age, gender and whether you are pregnant. Let's start at the start with babies. Babies need iron for brain development and growth. In the womb, they store enough iron for the first four to six months of life. However, if the baby was born premature or a low birth weight a paediatrician may recommend a supplement.

After the six months, their need for iron increases, so the introduction of solid foods when the baby is developmentally ready can help to provide sources of iron. I will go into more detail into iron-rich foods below.

For children and adults look at the table below to find out how much iron you need.

Here is a rough guide of how much Iron you need.

  • 1-3 year olds - 7mg

  • 4-8 year olds - 10 mg

  • 9-13 year olds - 8mg

  • 14-18 year old males - 11mg

  • 14-18 year old females - 15 mg

  • 19 + males - 8mg

  • 19-50 year old females - 18mg

  • 51+ females - 8mg

How to get iron

Iron in food exists as two types, heme and non-heme. Animal foods such as meat, seafood and poultry provide both types. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods, such as vegetables, legumes, grains and fortified cereals. Here are some suggestions on foods which are high in iron. Amount of iron is per 100g


  • Lentils 3.3mg

  • Chickpeas 2.9mg

  • Lima Beans 2.5mg

  • Navy Beans 2.4mg

  • Kidney Beans 2.2mg

Leafy Greens

  • Spinach 2.7mg

  • Swiss Chard 1.8mg

  • Kale 1.5mg

Seeds and Nuts

  • Pumpkin Seeds 15mg

  • Sesame Seeds 9mg

  • Flax seeds 5.7mg

  • Sunflower Seeds 5.2mg

  • Hemp Seeds 3.9mg


  • Oats 5mg

  • Quinoa 4.6mg

  • Buckwheats 2.2mg


  • Asparagus 2.1mg

  • Green Peas 1.5mg

  • Pumpkin 0.8mg

  • Potato (with skin on) 0.8mg

  • Broccoli 0.7mg

  • Mushrooms .05mg

Now I would just like to compare these to one of the most common red meats, beef. 100g of beef has 2.6mg which yes it isn't bad but you could get the same amount or more from most of the plant-based foods I have mentioned above. Plus if you get it via plant-based foods instead of meat you are also not getting the other nasty stuff like fat, cholesterol, toxins, hormones and antibiotics which come with all meats.

How to increase iron absorption from plant-based foods

Non-heme iron is often harder for our body to absorb but if you follow a few simple guidelines you will be able to increase your iron absorption.

Always combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C.

Vitamin C helps to absorb iron a synthesises red blood cells. Some foods high in Vitamin C are lemons, oranges, parsley, green peas and tomatoes.

Do not combine iron-rich foods with foods that contain caffeine

Coffee and black tea can reduce your iron absorption by as much as 60%. Try to bring caffeinated foods and beverages in your diet to a minimum. If you still want to have your daily coffee or tea, then try to keep at least two hours between your iron-rich meal and drink.

Do not combine iron-rich foods with foods that contain dairy

Studies have shown that dairy can inhibit iron absorption, the inhibitory effect, however, may be short duration. Similar to caffeine, try to avoid eating any foods that contain dairy together with your iron-rich meal.

Improve your overall gut health

Including probiotics in your regular diet can improve absorption of minerals significantly. Probiotic foods include sauerkraut, miso and kimchi. Or you can try taking Digestive Plus. Digestive plus is a powder which you can add to water or smoothies. It has soothing notes of ginger and chamomile, probiotics, and 3 billion CFU of the probiotic Bacillus coagulant to help support normal digestive function.

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