When we talk about iron, we always think that meat, especially red meat is the best source of iron. However plants are also rich in iron and can deliver the body with the necessary amount that is needed.
Why We Need Iron
Firstly, let’s look at why we need iron. Iron is essential to make the protein called hemoglobin found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is needed for transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the rest of your body. If you don’t have enough iron, your body is unable to make enough healthy oxygen carrying red blood cells, and this can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, pale skin, dark circles under the eyes, feeling cold, and dizziness.
Heme and Non-Heme Iron
There are two types of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is from animal sources such as red meat, chicken, fish, dairy and eggs. Non-heme iron is from plants.
Heme iron is better absorbed by the body compared to non-heme, which means those on plant based diets need to be more mindful of their intake of iron rich foods. You can also boost the absorption of iron by including a source of vitamin C when eating plant sources of iron. For example when eating legumes, pair it with tomatoes or leafy greens. Or if you take blackstrap molasses, make sure to take it with citrus fruits.
Plant Sources of Iron Rich Foods
In order to meet your daily iron requirements, fill your diet with a mix of vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. You can also include fortified grains and cereals to increase your iron intake. Another good source of iron is blackstrap molasses which can yield between 1 to 3mg of iron in one tablespoon.
½ cup serving
Pumpkin seeds: 5.6mg
Prune juice: 5.2mg
Lentils (cooked): 3.3mg
Chickpeas (cooked): 3mg
Spinach (cooked): 3mg
Kidney beans: 2mg
How Much Iron Do You Need
The USDA recommends that women between the ages of 19 and 50 get 18 mg of iron a day, while women ages 51 and older and men 19 years and beyond need 8 mg a day.
For pregnant women, recommended dosage is 27mg.
If you think you are low on iron, the best way to know if you are deficient is through a blood test. If you have been diagnosed with low iron levels or anemia, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement.
Do not be tempted to pop an iron supplement based on your own diagnosis. The body is unable to excrete iron rapidly causing a build up which may become toxic. Check with your doctor what is going on before self-diagnosis.