Plant based iron
As a plant eater, I often get the asked the question - so what about iron? I thought it was about time for a blog dedicated to this super-important mineral and how to get the most of it...
Iron, or lack of it, is an issue we should be concerned about. Iron deficiency manifests itself in fatigue, pale skin, weakness and inability to maintain body temperature - we may also suffer headaches, dizziness and shortness of breathe.
iron is an essential mineral because it contributes to the production of blood cells. The human body needs iron to make the oxygen-carrying proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin.
Plants eaters and iron!
There are two types of iron — heme, which is found in animal foods, and non-heme, which is from plants. Heme iron (the kind from animals) is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron, resulting in the recommendations that vegans/vegetarians are recommended to consume more iron per day than meat eaters.
Plant eaters are also likely to have lower iron stocks.
However, here is the good news:
1) There are plenty of good plant sources of iron:
Legumes: lentils, tofu, tempeh, lima beans, chickpeas
Grains: quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal
Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, pine, pistachio, sunflower, cashews, unhulled sesame
Vegetables: tomato sauce, swiss chard, collard greens, leafy greens
Other: blackstrap molasses, prune juice, dried apricots
2) Eat it with vitamin C - vitamin C helps to absorb iron and the good news is in many plant sources they occur naturally together. The issue of often not about how much iron we are eating, but how well we are absorbing it. Lemon juice in hummus, beans and rice with a tomato sauce
3) We absorb better bit by bit over the day - so while an iron supplement may be necessary sometimes, having small amounts of iron at each meal is much easier to absorb into the body... often better than a steak ;-)
4) Vegans often have higher iron stores than vegetarians as dairy products do not contain any iron, and the calcium they do have can impede iron absorption. Vegans are eating other plant sources that almost all contain iron... so watch the cheese ;-)
5) Vegetarians have lower stores of iron than omnivores, they do not have higher rates of anemia. In the research, many vegetarians’ stores are “low-normal,” but this does not mean less than ideal! Actually, there’s some evidence that says low-normal iron stores are beneficial: improved insulin function and lower rates of heart disease and cancer.
Want to know more - here is an excellent fact sheet on iron which also answers questions on how much you need - women need quite a lot more than men.
Hope that answers some of the common questions...