Are you a vegan, and struggling with maintaining your iron levels?
We have chosen our top five iron-rich plant-based foods that are easy to incorporate into your diet. Read below and start feeling energetic again!
Iron is one of the essential mineral needed for good health and is a mineral that is naturally present in many foods, added to some food products, and available as a dietary supplement. Iron is an essential component of haemoglobin (red blood cell) protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. As a component of myoglobin, another protein that provides oxygen, iron supports muscle metabolism and healthy connective tissue. Iron is also important for growth, neurological development, cellular functioning, and hormone synthesis.
Dietary iron has two main forms: heme and nonheme. Plants and iron-fortified foods contain nonheme iron, whereas meat, seafood, and poultry contain both heme and nonheme iron.
The most abundant sources of heme iron in the diet include lean meat and seafood. Dietary sources of nonheme iron include nuts, beans, vegetables, and fortified grain products.
A lack of iron can result in an individual feeling tired and having a lack of energy, shortness of breath, pale skin and heart palpitations. Iron deficiency is associated with poor diet, malabsorptive disorders (inflammatory bowel disease), and blood loss (through menstruation or internal bleeding), nutrient deficiencies and increased requirements during pregnancy. Iron deficiency can cause anaemia (symptoms include fatigue, weakness, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, brittle nails and cravings for non-nutritive substances such as starch), which can cause further health problems.
As a vegan, you can enhance your body’s absorption of iron by consuming foods rich in vitamin C at the same time that you eat high-iron foods. Vitamin C in citrus juices, like orange juice, helps your body to better absorb dietary iron. Vitamin C is also found in broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, peppers, strawberries, oranges and tomatoes.
Foods that help manage menopause symptoms are:
- Leafy greens – dark leafy greens like kale, spinach and chard are renowned for their iron content. They can be eaten raw or steam cooked, and are easy to buy as fresh or frozen products. Other green vegetables known to have high iron content are broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage.
- Legumes – these include soya beans, lentils and other types of beans and peas. Tofu, derived from soya beans have a high iron content (8.8mg of iron per cup!) Furthermore, fermented soya products such as natto or tempeh have much higher iron content (15mg!). Legumes also contain a good amount of iron (3.3mg per cup), however, they contain phytic acid which can sometimes prevent the absorption of iron. I advise my vegan clients to pair legumes with peppers (rich in vitamin C) to enhance iron absorption.
- Quinoa – This is great for those who avoid gluten, quinoa is packed with vitamins and mineral. When cooked, quinoa has 2.8mg of iron per cup and also contains nine essential amino acids, making it a high source of protein.
- Pumpkin seeds – one of the seeds that have the highest iron content (4.2mg per tablespoon!) Also, to enhance the zinc content, pumpkin seeds can be soaked overnight and consumed the next day. Other seeds that are high in iron are hemp seeds and sesame seeds.
- Dark chocolate – a treat as well as a great source of iron with almost 12mg of iron per 100g as well as minimal fat and sugar! Winner!
If you are struggling with your nutritional intake and are feeling weak and fatigued, you may be deficient in more than just iron! Speak to one of our qualified Nutritionists or Functional Medicine Practitioners who can get you tested and help you achieve your health goals!
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