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Vegan foods high in iron

Vegan foods high in iron

Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. Although there are plenty of vegan foods high in iron, the type of iron found in plants is not as easily absorbed as the type found in meat. For this reason, it is important for people on a vegan or vegetarian diet to be aware of foods that are high in iron and techniques that can promote iron absorption.

Why iron is an important micronutrient

The main functions of iron are to help supply oxygen to the blood, to help the body resist disease, to promote red blood cell formation, and to maintain proper metabolism. The Symptoms of a lack of iron include tiredness, lack of stamina, breathlessness, depression, dim vision and poor memory, all of which are associated with decreased oxygen supply to tissues and organs. Iron deficiency in infants can result in impaired learning ability and behavioural problems. [1]

Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron

Before we share the top plant sources of iron, it's important for you to understand that the two forms of iron that are available through food - heme and non-heme.
In our blog 'What you need to know about protein when on a plant-based or vegan diet', we described how there are 'complete proteins', which contain all essential amino acids, and incomplete proteins which do not. It's a similar situation with iron - not all iron is the same. There are two forms, heme and non-heme. When on a plant-based diet, there are extra considerations to make sure you are absorbing enough iron. Here's why:
Heme iron is found only in animal flesh like meat, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Non-heme iron is also found in animal flesh (as animals consume plant foods with non-heme iron) and fortified foods. [2]
Heme iron is easier to absorb compared to non-heme iron. This is the primary reason why vegans and vegetarians are more at risk for iron deficiency.
There are actions that you can take to increase the absorption of non-heme iron:
  1. Eat foods high in Vitamin C at the same time as eating foods high in Iron. Vitamin C is known to promote iron absorption helps to facilitate the drawbacks of non-heme iron. Try including citrus fruits, such as oranges or squeezed lemon with your iron-rich meals.
  2. Coffee and tea are known to prohibit iron absorption. It's recommended that you drink tea and coffee in between meals, rather than at the same time.  

    Best iron sources for vegans

    The average recommended dietary allowances of iron is 8 mg/day for men and 18 mg/day for women older than 19 (the recommended intake varies based on age and situation). [3]
    Here are some of the best iron-rich foods for people on a vegan or vegetarian diet. By including these in your diet, you should be able to meet your daily iron requirements easily and maintain your vegan/vegetarian lifestyle with ease.

    1. Vegetables

    Vegetables have a higher iron content than most meat and eggs, however, the type of iron is the non-heme iron which isn’t easily absorbed. However, vegetables are also a rich source of Vitamin C which in turn helps with iron absorption. Vegetables are among the most common and easy to integrate sources of iron.
    Leafy green vegetables are a rich source of iron. Vegetables like spinach and kale contain roughly 2.5–6.4 mg of iron per cooked cup. Leafy greens are best consumed in their cooked form in order to gain the required iron. Other vegetables like potatoes are a great source of iron as well. One large potato can contain around 3.2 mg of iron. Things are a bit tricky when it comes to vegetables like tomatoes. While raw tomatoes contain an insignificant amount of iron, dried and concentrated ones have a higher amount of iron. Half a cup (118 ml) of tomato paste offers 3.9 mg of iron, or 22% of the RDI.


    spinach, a good source of iron for a vegan diet


    2. Whole Grains

    Grains are one of the best sources for most of the essential nutrients, including iron. However, the same benefit gets lost when they’re processed. For this reason, whole grains are an excellent source of many essential nutrients like iron, antioxidants, fibre, etc.
    Amaranth is one of the most iron-rich whole grains out there as it consists of 5.2 mg of iron per cup cooked. It is also rich in fibre, carbs, magnesium and other nutrients. Quinoa is a popular grain for a reason and there’s plenty of reasons why. Not only does it contain 2.8 mg of iron per cup cooked, but it is also linked to being an anti-oxidant and contains valuable nutrients like complete protein, carbs, fibre, etc.


    Whole grains are a good source of iron for vegan diet

    3. Fruits

    While fruits aren’t necessarily well-known as iron sources, there are certainly some that make the cut. One such fruit is olives, yes olives are a type of fruit. Olives have 3.3 mg of iron per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) making them one of the highest sources of iron among fruits. Other fruits like prune juice and mulberries are good iron sources as well. Dried fruits are also a good option, as the nutrients are concentrated in the dehydration process. The sugar is too mind you, so don't overdo the dried fruit if you're watching your sugar intake.

    Olives good source of iron for vegan diet

    4. Blackstrap Molasses

    Blackstrap molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane’s refining process. Unlike refined sugars, which have no nutritional value, blackstrap molasses contains vitamin and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, potassium and selenium. [3]. One tablespoon of Blackstrap Molasses contains around contains 3 mg of iron. When buying blackstrap molasses, look for products that are organic and unsulphered.


    5. Dark Chocolate

    You might be pleased to hear that dark chocolate is a good source of iron, along with other benefits such as antioxidants and prebiotic fibre. You can read more about the benefits of prebiotics in our blog 'Prebiotics or Probiotics - what's your gut feeling?'.
    100g of dark chocolate contains around 3.6mg of iron. [4] The darker the chocolate the better, so go for at least 60% dark chocolate (above 80% is even better).
    dark chocolate, a source of iron for vegan and vegetarian diet

    6. Nuts And Seeds

    Pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds have high iron levels. Nut and nut butter are also a good source of iron, particularly for a snack. 
    Here's a list of the iron levels of the top seeds and nuts in terms of iron content:
    Pumpkin seeds (dried) - 15mg per 100g
    Sesame seeds - 9mg per 100g (1.3mg per tbsp)
    Pine nuts - 5.5mg per 100g
    Pistachio nuts - 4.2mg per 100g
    Almonds - 3.7mg per 100g
    nuts and seeds high in iron for vegan diet


    When on a vegan diet, it's important to make sure you are (a) eating enough food sources high in iron and (b) eating them in a way that increases their level of absorption. Eating foods high in vitamin C at the same time as foods high in iron and avoiding drinking tea and coffee at mealtime, will help to ensure you are getting enough iron on a vegan diet. 

    If you are experiencing symptoms of being low in iron, you can take a blood test to find out confirm your iron levels. 

    What you need to know about protein when on a plant based or vegan diet

    What you need to know about protein when on a plant based or vegan diet
    The most common argument against plant-based diets is that it's hard to get enough protein, particularly if you have a highly active lifestyle.
    While meat certainly accounts for the highest volumes of protein, plant-based food isn’t nearly as devout of the macronutrient as people think. A plant-based diet offers enough protein for people of all lifestyles. Food items like legumes, peas, pulses, nuts, etc are an excellent source of protein as well as aid in strengthening the immune system.
    The important consideration with a plant diet is likely not whether you're getting enough protein, it's actually whether you're eating enough complete protein, which means the protein contains the essential amino acids. 

    Good sources of protein for a vegan diet

    The average recommended daily intake of protein is 46 grams per day for women and 64 grams per day for men. It is more than this for someone with an active lifestyle. 
    Below are some of the most common vegan protein sources:


    Broccoli contains 2 grams of protein per cooked cup. Broccoli also consists of important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and B vitamins. In addition to all of these, a cup of cooked broccoli is just 20 calories.

    Broccoli - a good source of protein for a vegan diet


    Buckwheat is one of the most important protein sources for someone following a plant-based diet. Buckwheat is a gluten-free seed that is a complete protein (more on that later) and contains nutrients like manganese and fibre. Buckwheat is also easy to integrate into daily meals by replacing rice and other cereals, or by using buckwheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. One cup of cooked buckwheat contains around 5.7 g of protein.

    buckwheat is a good source of protein for a vegan diet 


    Not only are legumes one of the top substitutes for meat, but they’re also packed with protein. A cup of cooked pinto beans or black beans consists of around 15 grams of protein. As a comparison, the amount of protein you can expect from one serving (85g) of beef is 22g.
    Green peas are another good source of protein (8g per cup), as are soybeans (so much so that soy gets its own section below).

    Nutritional Yeast

    Nutritional yeast is high in protein and it's a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential acids. Nutritional yeast is a species of yeast called known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It's used for its flavouring and nutritional benefits. It has a nutty, cheesy flavour, which is why it's a popular addition to vegan meals.
    One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains contains 2 grams of protein.


    Nuts like cashews, almonds and pistachios are a stellar combination of protein, fibre and good fat. This combination provides satiety, long-lasting energy as well as blood sugar regulation. These nuts are a great option for a snack as well as they’re versatile that can be included as toppings. Nut butter, including peanut butter and almond butter, provide a great source of protein.

    nuts are a good source of protein for a vegan diet



    Similar to buckwheat, Quinoa is also a complete protein. ½ cup of cooked quinoa consists of around eight grams of protein. Quinoa is a pseudo-cereal with considerable nutritional and dietary benefits, which you can learn more about in our blog 'What makes Quinoa a Quin”woah”?'



    Seeds are tiny but they pack a punch. Various seeds like pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are loaded with energy and protein. A single ounce of chia seeds consists of around 5 grams of protein and also contain essential minerals as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

    seeds are a good source of protein for vegan diet


    Soy is one of the best sources of plant protein for vegans and vegetarians. From edamame to tofu and other soy-based products, it is a good protein source. A single ounce of tofu has around 6 grams of protein and is a highly versatile food source. There is around 8 grams of protein in a cup of soy milk.


    Is Protein enough?

    The reason why plant-based diets get a bad rep despite having such excellent protein sources is that most plant-based proteins arent complete proteins. Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, some of which our body can make and others we have to obtain from food. There are nine of them that humans can't produce themselves so must consume. These nine amino acids are essential for the body to function. Meat and dairy contain complete protein while most plant-based protein miss on one or more amino acids. The exceptions are buckwheat, quinoa and other food items that are known ascomplete proteinsources.

    The key to having a protein-rich diet is more than consuming a high amount of protein, it is also about ensuring that youre consuming complete protein, containing the essential amino acids.

    You can learn more about the essential amino acids in our blog 'How to get Essential Amino Acids on a Plant Based Diet'

    You'll be pleased to know that the ingredients in our patties have been carefully selected to contain all essential amino acids, making Amino Mantra patties a complete protein, nutrient-rich food.


    Lysine rich foods for a vegan diet

    Lysine rich foods for a vegan diet
    Switching to a plant based diet? Its important to keep in mind that our body is in constant state of wear and tear. Read more about amino acid - Lysine, the role it plays in cell repair and best plant based sources that you could  consume.