There are plenty of vegan iron rich foods. Here are some great options, plus recipes starring each one!
One frequently asked question I get from non-vegans is about iron. A lot of folks think that you need to eat a steak to get enough iron. That thinking makes sense, because that's the way the USDA and the school system teach us nutrition. But there are so many plant-based iron rich foods. And they're delicious!
I am not a nutritionist, so my first stop in researching veganism and iron was The Great Vegan Search Engine. Yay for heavily-curated sources! Of course, my search for iron spit back articles from two solid sites: The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) and The Vegan RD.
Iron Requirements and Iron Rich Foods
How much iron you need depends on your gender, age, and (for women) how heavy your period is. The VRG page on iron also points out that eating vitamin C with your iron helps absorption.
I think part of the myth about vegans and iron comes from the fact that our bodies are better at absorbing iron from animal products. Vegetarians and vegans may need about 1.8 times as much iron as omnivores, so eating lots of iron rich foods is key. The Vegan RD also recommends that vegan women who get heavy periods take an iron supplement. She also points out that iron deficiency is not a vegan problem. Many Americans need more iron in our diets, and either need to choose more iron rich foods or start supplementing.
Here are the RDAs for iron, adjusted according to what the VRG recommended:
Plant-Based Iron Rich Foods + Recipes
The best way to hit your iron targets with diet alone is to make sure you include more than one portion of iron rich foods in each meal. Below are the 10 best plant-based iron rich foods, plus recipe ideas!
You might be surprised that spinach and Swiss chard aren't on the list below. While these dark leafy greens contain a lot of iron, they also contain compounds that block your body's ability to absorb it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't eat spinach or chard. Just don't count on these to meet your iron requirements.
1. Blackstrap Molasses - 7.2mg in 2 tablespoons
Molasses has a strong flavor, so getting a full 2 tablespoon serving can be rough. The oatmeal recipe below uses two tablespoons, but most recipes use molasses pretty sparingly.
2. Lentils - 6.6mg in 1 cup
3. Tofu - 6.4mg in 4 ounces
- Make a simple stir fry.
- Bake it with salt and pepper.
- Serve it with veggies over mashed potatoes.
4. Chickpeas - 4.7mg in 1 cup
- Make the best hummus ever.
- Use them in your vegan mac. Yes, really!
- Roast them with Sriracha sauce for a crunchy snack
5. Tempeh - 4.5mg in 1 cup
6. Lima Beans - 4.5mg in 1 cup
7. Black Eyed Peas - 4.3mg in 1 cup
- Try them as a filling for vegan sloppy Joes.
- Mix with quinoa and veggies and top with cashew queso.
- Marinate them.
8. Kidney Beans - 3.9mg in 1 cup
- Toss them into a Carribean stew.
- Douse them in curry sauce.
- Feature them as the protein in a Thai stir fry.
9. Black Beans - 3.6mg in 1 cup
10. Pinto Beans - 3.6mg in 1 cup
- Layer them into some yummy vegan tostadas.
- Stuff them into tasty turnovers.
- Toss them in the slow cooker for a down-home recipe.
You might see a trend here - beans are your friend when it comes to iron! Veggies like asparagus and dark leafy greens have a decent amount of iron, too, but few foods beat a bean for iron power!