You can get enough iron on a plant-based diet, and this list shows you how with 12 vegan sources of iron!
Iron is an essential nutrient for everyone. But its ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles makes it especially important for athletes. Without enough iron in the bloodstream, you can suffer from iron deficiency anemia. [Read more about how to detect an iron deficiency.]
It may not sound all that serious, but iron deficiency anemia is accompanied by extreme exhaustion, lightheadedness, headaches and frequent infections. Doesn’t sound fun, does it?
The recommended daily intake for iron is 18 milligrams (mg). If you think you’re not getting enough, talk to you doctor about checking your iron levels. Too much iron in the blood can actually be toxic, so don’t take a supplement unless it’s necessary.
Many vegetarians and vegans are prone to iron deficiency anemia, since iron from plants is not as well absorbed as iron from animals.
As a matter of fact, there are two types of iron.
- Heme iron: This is the iron found in meat, such as chicken, beef, pork and seafood. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body.
- Non-heme iron: This iron is found in plant sources and animal byproducts, such grains, fortified cereals, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables and dairy. Non-heme iron is not as well absorbed by the body, and you need more of it to meet your iron needs.
The good news is that it’s possible to get enough iron from plant sources by eating a diet that is rich in the following 12 foods. [Find out more about how to be a vegetarian or vegan runner here.]
1. Chickpeas, 1/2 cup, 1.5 milligrams (mg) (8.3% daily value (DV))
A half cup of chickpeas contains about 6% of your daily iron needs. Roast them in a bit of olive oil for a crunchy snack, throw them in a wrap for a plant-based protein lunch, or mix them with tomatoes, feta, and cucumber to create a savory side dish.
2. Spinach, 2 cups packed raw, 1.4 mg (7.7% DV)
Dark leafy greens, especially spinach, provide plenty of iron. Get a hefty dose of iron with just one hearty Strawberry Spinach Salad.
3. Oats, 1 cup, 1.7 mg (9.4% DV)
Oats are quick to cook, satisfying, and extremely versatile. One cup has almost 10% of your daily iron needs can be a hearty breakfast or snack.
4. Tofu, ½ cup, 3 mg (17% DV)
Vegetarians and vegans are no strangers to tofu, and that’s a good thing because this soy-bean based protein is packed with iron. Plus, it takes on the flavor of any marinade, so you can use it in basically any dish.
5. Lentils, 1/2 cup cooked, 3.17 mg (42% DV)
Lentils, along with other legumes, are a great source of iron, specifically for vegetarians or vegans! Just half a cup of cooked lentils provides almost half of the iron you need in a day. And two of the most popular recipes on this site are made with lentils: Moroccan Lentil Soup & Greek Lentil Power Bowl.
6. Potatoes, 1 medium potato, 1.87 mg (14% DV)
News flash– potatoes aren’t bad for you! As a matter of fact, they are a healthy carb for any fitness enthusiast, and they pack in serious iron and potassium. Keep the skin on for an added fiber boost!
7. Cashews,1 ounce, 1.72 mg (13% DV)
Nuts and nut butters, specifically cashews, contain quite a bit of non-heme iron. Whether you’re adding them to smoothies, salads, or eating alone, they’re a great iron rich source!
8. Edamame, 1 cup, 2 mg (11% DV)
Going for sushi night? Highly recommend ordering the edamame as an appetizer (if you don’t already!) Aside from being delicious, these green soybeans are packed with iron, protein and fiber.
9. Sesame Seeds, 2 tablespoons, 1.2 mg (7% DV)
While sesame seeds aren’t always on people’s radar, but they should be. Not only do they add a nice crunch to proteins or salads, ground sesame seeds make tahini–a nice alternative to nut butters. anything.
10. Flax Seeds, 2 tablespoons, 1.2 mg (7% DV)
Flax seeds have gained some serious popularity over the last few years and for good reason! They contain healthy omega-3 fats, fiber and (you guessed it) iron. Blend them in a smoothie or mix into your yogurt!
11. Beets, 1 cup, 1.34 mg (7% DV)
This royal purple root veggie is packed with antioxidants and contains a nice serving of iron. Beet juice also has some added benefits for athletes [learn more here].
12. White Mushrooms, 1 cup cooked, 2.7 mg, (15% DV)
The “meat” of the plant-based world not only has a nice bite, but it’s also an excellent source of iron. Throw mushrooms into a stir-fry, salad or make these Vegan Tacos.