What are the best iron sources for vegetarians?

What Are The Best Iron Sources for Vegetarians?

As a vegetarian, you strive to make healthy choices each day. You're no stranger to fruit smoothies and kale salads, but lately, you may have been wondering if you're getting enough iron in your meatless diet. Your doctor mentioned that your fatigue could be the result of iron deficiency, so now it's time to take a test to check your iron status and add more iron-rich foods to the day.


How Much Iron Do I Actually Need?

The amount of iron you need depends on factors like your age, weight, sex, lifestyle and the food diversity of your vegetarian diet.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for iron suggests males ages 19 and older get 8 mg of food-sourced iron per day. For women, the numbers vary due to child-bearing. From ages 19-50, women should get 18 mg of iron per day, then decrease to 8 mg per day at age 51. However, these guidelines do not specifically address the bioavailability differences between plant and animal-derived iron sources.

Vegetarian Iron Sources and Pairings

Plant-based iron sources are typically less bioavailable than animal-derived iron. However, the bioavailability of plant-based iron can be improved by adding vitamin C to the diet. Let's explore some food combinations that would be beneficial for vegetarian meals and snacks based on information from the Mayo Clinic and Simply Vegan.

  • 1 cup of cooked lentils yields 7.2 mg of iron. Try mixing them with garlic, diced onions, spices, and stewed tomatoes, which are high in vitamin C.
  • 1/2 cup of tofu yields 6.6 mg of iron. Use this soybean-based food in soups or stir-fry with green vegetables rich in vitamin C, such as bok choy, cabbage, and broccoli.
  • 1 cup of cooked spinach yields 6.4 mg of iron. Mix spinach into a plate of pasta with tomato sauce for better non-heme iron absorption.
  • 1 cup of cooked kidney beans yields 5.2 mg of iron. Use them as a base in a vegetarian bean burger or chili recipe paired with vitamin C-plentiful sweet bell peppers.

Additional foods rich in iron include chickpeas, edamame, tempeh, lima beans, swiss chard, pinto beans, quinoa, prune juice, beet greens, and cashews. For pescatarians (vegetarians who eat seafood) iron is ample in oysters, sardines, and tuna.

Iron Supplements for Vegetarians

If you're short on time, it may be wise to supplement your diet with a vegan iron supplement. Neuterre Whole Food Iron Supplements contain koji fermented iron. Koji is a fungus “micro-mushroom” which has been used over centuries to make Asian fermented foods, like miso and sake. The iron in koji is naturally stored in the cell structure for slow release, effective absorption, and ease on your body. Pair your supplements with a morning glass of orange juice or a handful of strawberries to gain energy and confidence knowing you're responsibly managing your vegetarian lifestyle.