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How to get iron as a vegan?

sliced avocado, tomatoes, and bread on a green surface

Why is iron important for vegans?

Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in the body. It is responsible for transporting oxygen to the cells and tissues, supporting the immune system, and aiding in energy production. While it is commonly associated with animal products, it is entirely possible for vegans to meet their iron needs through a well-planned plant-based diet. By incorporating certain foods and optimizing iron absorption, vegans can ensure they are getting an adequate amount of this vital nutrient.

Sources of plant-based iron

Vegans can obtain iron from various plant-based sources. These include:

  • Legumes: Foods like lentils, chickpeas, and beans are excellent sources of iron. For example, a cup of cooked lentils provides around 6.6 milligrams of iron, which is about 37% of the recommended daily intake for adult men and 18% for adult women.
  • Leafy greens: Vegetables such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are not only rich in iron but also packed with other essential nutrients. For instance, a cup of cooked spinach contains approximately 6.4 milligrams of iron.
  • Seeds and nuts: Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and cashews are all good sources of iron. Additionally, they offer healthy fats and protein. For example, a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds provides around 4.2 milligrams of iron.
  • Whole grains: Foods like quinoa, brown rice, and oats contain iron. They also offer fiber and other nutrients. One cup of cooked quinoa contains approximately 2.8 milligrams of iron.
  • Tofu and tempeh: These soy-based products are not only rich in protein but also provide iron. Half a cup of tofu contains around 3.4 milligrams of iron.

Enhancing iron absorption

While plant-based sources of iron are abundant, it is important to note that the iron found in plants is non-heme iron, which is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron found in animal products. However, there are ways to enhance iron absorption:

Pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C

Vitamin C helps convert non-heme iron into a form that is more easily absorbed by the body. Including foods rich in vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods can significantly enhance iron absorption. Some examples of vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli.

Avoiding inhibitors of iron absorption

Some substances can inhibit iron absorption. These include:

  • Phytates: Found in whole grains, legumes, and nuts, phytates can bind to iron and reduce its absorption. Soaking, fermenting, or sprouting these foods can help reduce phytate levels and increase iron availability.
  • Oxalates: Foods like spinach, beet greens, and rhubarb contain oxalates, which can also hinder iron absorption. However, cooking these foods can help reduce oxalate levels and increase iron bioavailability.
  • Tannins: Present in tea, coffee, and some herbal infusions, tannins can inhibit iron absorption. Consuming these beverages between meals rather than with iron-rich foods can minimize their impact on iron absorption.

Cooking in cast-iron cookware

Cooking acidic foods, such as tomato sauce or chili, in cast-iron cookware can increase the iron content of the dish. The iron leaches into the food during cooking, providing an additional source of this essential mineral.

Supplementing iron

In some cases, it may be necessary for vegans to supplement their iron intake. This is particularly true for individuals with increased iron needs, such as pregnant women or those with certain medical conditions. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation regimen to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure it is safe and necessary.


Getting enough iron as a vegan is entirely achievable through a well-planned plant-based diet. By incorporating iron-rich foods, optimizing absorption through pairing with vitamin C and avoiding inhibitors, and considering supplementation when necessary, vegans can meet their iron needs and maintain optimal health.