Are you incorporating iron boosting plant foods into your diet? Did you know that there are many other foods you can eat besides meat or other animal products that are high in iron?
As a plant-eater myself, I get asked many times how do you get your iron intake?
Believe it or not, there are tons of delicious iron-rich plant foods that you can incorporate when eating a balanced whole foods diet.
We all know that Iron is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in many bodily functions, but how much Iron should we consume? The recommended daily value (%DV) for iron is 18mg per day. Most adults only need 8-18mg, women, during pregnancy, iron needs increase to 27 mg daily. However, plant-based eaters should aim to consume 15-32mg per day due to nonheme iron is not as easily absorbed (1) AND besides plant-based eaters need more iron daily, and so do Athletes, even more, if you are a Woman Athlete. WHY? It is because iron is lost through sweat, skin, urine, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and menstruation. Did you know that Workouts or Exercise, particularly high intensity (HIIT) and Endurance types, increase the loss of iron by as much as 70% when compared to sedentary populations? (2)
Below is a helpful list of plant foods you can incorporate into eating to boost your daily iron intake.
- Tofu, Tempeh, or Soybeans – Soybeans and foods derived from soybeans like tofu and tempeh are packed with iron. Soybeans contain around 8.8 mg of it per cup or 49% of the RDI. Tofu and tempeh offer 3–3.6 mg of iron for 6oz.
- Lentils & Legumes – Lentils are great iron-rich food, providing 6.6 mg per cup cooked, or 37% of the RDI. Other legumes that are a good source of iron are white, lima, red kidney, black, and navy beans contain 4.4–6.6 mg of iron per cup cooked.
- Green Peas and other Peas – Besides green peas containing 2.46 mg of iron per cup, black-eyed peas and chickpeas have the highest iron content than legumes around 4.6–5.2 mg per cup cooked.
- Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame, Flaxseed, or Hempseeds are the seeds richest in iron, containing around 1.2–4.2 mg per two tablespoons.
- Pistachios have 4.8 mg of iron per cup and are a perfect snack.
- Nuts are another great contain source of iron, especially when eaten raw. Nuts like cashews, almonds, pine nuts, and macadamia between 1–1.6 mg of iron per ounce, or around 6–9% of the RDI
- Dried Apricots, Dates, or Prunes– Did you know that dried fruits contain more iron than fresh fruits? Why is that? It’s because dried fruits are more concentrated. Dried fruits can range from 2.3mg-4.79mg of iron in 100 grams servings.
- Dark leafy greens – Dandelion, collard, kale, spinach, and swiss chard offer 3-6 mg of iron per 150 g serving. Try mixing it with other leafy greens to boost the iron content of a salad even higher.
- Brussels sprouts– This amazing cruciferous vegetables offer 2.13 mg of iron per 150 g serving and are also high in calcium.
- Potatoes contain significant amounts of iron, which can be mostly found in their skins. A white potato contains 3.2 mg of iron per 1 unpeeled serving. Sweet potatoes contain a little less, around 2.1 mg per 1 unpeeled serving.
- Mushrooms -Mushrooms are a good source of iron, especially Oyster, Button, or Chanterelle mushrooms. Ranging from 2.7-4.9mg of iron per 100g serving.
- Palm Hearts & Artichokes- Looking for a way to boost your salads for an iron-rich meal? Try adding palm heart or artichokes to your next salad for lunch to dinner packing at 1.8-2.7 mg of iron per 100g serving.
- Olives contain a variety of beneficial plant compounds thought to provide several health benefits and also contain around 3.3 mg of iron per 100 grams.
- Beets, Beetroot Juice, & Beet Greens. One cup of cooked beets contains around 1.4 mg of iron. While this might not seem like a lot, beets are actually a wonderful source of this essential mineral. They also contain a good amount of vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron, so it’s even more beneficial.
- Canned Tomatoes, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, & Tomato paste- Canned tomatoes contain 1.57 mg of iron per 1/2 cup, and a 1/2 cup of tomato paste offers 3.9 mg of iron. Sun-dried tomatoes offer you 1.3–2.5 mg per 1/2 cup. However, raw tomatoes contain less iron than canned or sun-dried at 0.5 mg iron per 1/2 cup. Tomatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, which helps increase iron absorption.
- Oats, Quinoa, Amaranth- These whole grains are a great source of iron ranging from 2.8-5.4 mg of iron per cup cooked.
- Spirulina (Dried Seaweed) is a blue-green algae and not only is it a potent source of nutrients and health benefits but a great source of iron adding up to 2mg per tablespoon.
- Dulse-Dulse– is a sea vegetable and is one of the richest plant sources of iron. You will find more iron in 8g of Dulse than in 100g of raw sirloin steak
- Dark Chocolate– We all know dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate due to its antioxidants but it is also high in iron containing 3.3 mg per ounce.
- Blackstrap molasses-not only is molasses great for baking amazing gingerbread, ginger snaps, or molasses cookies, but it is high in nutrients including iron. It contains around 1.8 mg of iron per two tablespoons.
You can increase your absorption of iron in meals by combining them with foods that are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C will increase the absorption of non-heme iron (plant foods) by as much as 85%. Good sources of vitamin C include peppers, parsley, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruits, acerola cherries, blackcurrants, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit, and orange juice.
It is an important note to try to reduce drinking caffeine while eating meals as it can reduce iron absorption by 50-90% (3)
Bottom line, besides being a good source of iron, the plant foods listed in this article also happen to contain a variety of other nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Another reason to make sure you are eating your daily intake of fruits and vegetables is I know many people struggle to get in their recommended intake.
This is a reason to make sure you are eating a balanced whole foods diet of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats in your diet that incorporate iron-rich foods to help you meet your iron requirements but will also likely benefit your overall health.
Please note, before taking iron supplements or if you feel like you do not get enough iron, believe you may be iron deficient or have a history of iron deficiency, always consult with a physician or medicinal professional about strategies for addressing the problem or if you are making changes to your diet.