Did you know that low iron is common in vegetarian/vegan diets? Did you know that it’s also common for omnivores? If you didn’t, that’s okay! Most people don’t pay too much attention to their iron intake. Many people worry constantly about protein or vitamin C, but often overlook iron as an important part of our body’s ability to function properly, when indeed it is.
What is Iron?
According to the National Institutes of Health (link this: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/), iron is a mineral needed for growth in our bodies. We need iron to make hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. It also helps to produce myoglobin, which carries oxygen to muscles, and is also needed for some hormones.
Insufficient iron can be mild or unnoticeable at first, but once iron deficiency anemia sets in, possible symptoms could include:
Shortness of breath
Headache or dizziness
Being cold, or cold hands and feet
These are only a few of the possible symptoms of iron deficiency anemia that could pop up in your daily life. If left untreated, it could lead to various heart problems such as irregular heartbeat, enlarged heart, or heart failure. One way to reduce your risk of iron deficiency anemia is to eat foods high in iron. If you’re not sure where to start on getting the proper nutrition needed to enhance your iron levels, you’re in luck! I’ve put together a small list of iron-rich foods below for you to start incorporating into your daily diet!
Lentils, chickpeas, and other beans: beans are good for you, and taste good as well! Not to mention a great amount of protein to go along with the iron. Lentils go wonderful in soups during the fall and winter months, and chickpeas are perfect for green salads, or even various pasta salads in the warmer months. Either way, you’ll want to have beans on your side year round!
Mixed Nuts: a variety of nuts contain iron, however pistachios seem to be the highest. Other nuts high in iron include almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and cashews. Try making a vegan cashew cheese sauce or crushing almonds into your oatmeal!
Tofu: not only is it a great form of protein, but tofu is lesser known for the fact that it’s a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.
Whole grain and enriched breads: did you know that consumption of whole grains is also associated with a lowered risk of several diseases? The seeds are also a great addition to bread. What better excuse to make more sandwiches??
Tempeh: many people are turned off by the texture of tempeh, but if you can get past that then it’s a protein that you can marinate HOWEVER you choose!
Baked potatoes: they’re not just good for fries! Many people are actually unaware of the health benefits of potatoes, since they come in so many different forms. However, there are certain potatoes that have more iron than others, so when looking for that specific nutrient, be choosy!
Broccoli: broccoli contains not only fiber, but also a variety of vitamins, potassium, calcium, and magnesium which makes it a great superfood to add to your dinners.
Peanut butter: it’s high in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. I usually buy peanut butter that has only one ingredient: organic peanuts to ensure I’m getting the healthiest version with no processed junk or sweeteners.
Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale: these vegetables not only have high amounts of iron, but also act as antioxidants in the body!
This is just a small list of foods high in iron, but there are many others that you can incorporate into your daily diet to further enhance your iron intake.
Iron-related tips for vegetarians/vegans:
If you notice any of those symptoms previously stated, be sure to mention it to your doctor just to make sure you’re all good.
Be sure to get regular blood tests for iron to make sure you’re getting enough of it in your daily diet
If you’re not, your doctor will provide you with a supplement until your iron is back to normal. Don’t forget to take it! When I was taking iron pills, I took them either an hour before food, or two hours after food.
To help enhance your body’s iron absorption, try eating foods high in vitamin C along with your meals high in iron.
Try to include spinach or kale in some of your daily meals when possible.
Thank you for reading! I hope you now have a better understanding of iron in the body and what foods would be beneficial to add to your diet when low on iron.