Vegan Iron

Nataly Shemesh

Nataly Shemesh

Registered Dietitian
A salad made out beans and greens

Vegan Iron? It’s Everywhere!

Natalie Shemesh | Registered Dietitian

Iron is an important mineral required to prevent anemia and it is particularly important for women at fertility age, pregnant women, adolescents, and athletes because they have higher iron requirements. Contrary to popular belief, plant-based foods are very rich in iron and it is easy to get all the iron you need from a plant-based diet by following a few simple rules:

  • Eat iron-rich plant foods: legumes, whole and fortified grains, nuts and seeds (tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds is a great source), dried fruit, green vegetables.
  • Use these 3 simple tips to improve iron absorption:
    1. Soak or sprout your legumes (and also whole grains): soaking not only shortens cooking times, but also improves iron absorption by reduction of phytic acid.
    2. Add a vitamin C source to your meal: fresh fruit or vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, fresh salad with lemon juice, kiwis, oranges, and strawberries are great sources of vitamin C.
    3. Avoid tea, coffee, and cocoa during your meal: try to wait at least an hour after your meal before drinking caffeinated beverages. 


Have you been told animal products are the best source of iron? That’s not necessarily true. Not all animal products are good sources of iron. Chicken, for example, is actually very low in iron. For comparison, to get the same amount of iron that is in one cup of legumes or 1-2 tablespoons of tahini, one would have to eat 3-5 chicken legs or almost a pound of chicken breast!

Iron from plant-based foods is indeed more sensitive to iron absorption inhibitors (which can be easily dealt with by following the tips mentioned previously), while iron from animal products is absorbed whole, without the possibility for the body to regulate absorption according to its needs – but there is a catch! Research indicates that excess absorption of iron can be detrimental to your health. This is because iron is an oxidant, which can harm blood vessels and increase carcinogenic processes. In fact, iron from animal-based foods has been linked to colon cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. This association may be also influenced by other factors present in meat, such as saturated fats, cholesterol, and more.

Eating a plant-based diet is a great way to get all the iron you need with extra health benefits.

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