Iron is one of the many micronutrients people are more concerned about when thinking of a vegetarian or vegan diet. The importance of iron relies on the fact that it is a molecule crucial for the formation of hemoglobin, the one responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood.

But … where do you get the iron from if you do not eat meat?

SpinachImage by Tom Grill. Getty Images

There are many foods that contain iron that are not of animal origins, such as nuts, grains and some vegetables. The difference between these foods and animal foods is that iron comes in a different form. In animal products such as beef, chicken and fish iron is found as heme iron, a form in which the body can absorb up to 25% of the amount consumed. On the other hand, plant iron is found like non-heme iron, a molecule with lower bioavailability (slightly absorbable) with only 5-8% absorbed.

This is why it’s crucial that vegetarians or vegans consume lots of foods high in iron, it doesn’t mean that it’s not absorbed, just that more quantity is required to absorb the same amount, it is estimated that vegetarians and vegans should consume up to 1.8 times the daily iron recommendation for the general population …

(8 mg/day for men from 19 years and older, and 18 mg/day for women between 19 and 50. After 50 the recommendation is the same as men) * 1.2.

Also, there are some conditions and nutrients that can positively or negatively affect iron absorption.

Individuals with iron deficiency (anemia) may absorb up to 50%, while individuals without deficiencies absorb 5-15% of total iron consumption. That means the need for it, also influences its absorption *3.

Iron absorption decreases in the presence of *2,3:

  • Phytates (an organic acid containing phosphorus. It is found in cereals, legumes and nuts, especially when raw)
  • Calcium
  • Some Teas
  • Cocoa
  • Coffee

The absorption increases with the presence of *2,3:

  • Vitamin C
  • Some organic acids of fruits and vegetables that help reduce phytates

Similarly soaking legumes helps remove phytates so it is essential to carry out this process and to never reuse this water to promote a better absorption of iron in vegetarian and vegan diets.

It is then clear that as long as we manage a balanced diet as a vegetarian or vegan, it is not hard to meet the needs as people think. Evenmore, there are even multiple studies proving that the prevalence of anemia in vegans and vegetarians is not present like many believe. However, it is true that you have to know how to avoid this deficiency when living on these types of diets, and that is why we all share this blog :)

Here I have a table with the amount of iron found in some animal and plant foods:

Food mg of Iron in 100g Portion size (g or ml) Common Measure mg of Iron
Soy (nuts) 6,7 45 1.5 oz 3.0
Soy Milk 1.8 240 1 cup 4.3
Instant Cereals 3.6 – 9 50 1/2 cup 1.8-4.5
Tofu 2,7 120 1/2 cup 3.2
Beans 2.7 86 1/2 cup 1,8
Lentils 3.3 99 1/2 cup 3,3
Chickpeas 2,1 82 1/2 cup 2,4
Almonds 3,3 30 1 tbsp or 1 oz 0,8
Broccoli cooked 2,9 120 1/2 cup 0,7
Chicken Liver 12,9 90 3 oz 0,8
Chicken Breast 1,1 90 3 oz 1,1
Sirloin 1,8 90 3 oz 0,2

I’ll leave you with this information taken from the Vegetarian Resource Group that compares foods rich in terms of iron in a portion serving of 100 calories.

Food mg Iron/100 calories
Spinach 15.5
Lentils 2.9
Broccoli 1.9
Chickpeas 1.8
Sirloin Steak 0.9
Hamburger, lean 0.8
Chicken Breast 0.6

Have additional questions or concerns? This is the place to find the answers … ask us!




*1 DRI Dietary Reference Intake. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. 2010

*2  Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research. 2003

*3 Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy. Edition 12. Chapter 3.





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