Iron’s as important for your health as many other nutrients you might be aware of like protein, fiber, and Vitamin C. Iron is a mineral responsible for many things in the body – everything from carrying oxygen to our lungs, to aiding in metabolic function, and a host of enzymatic processes our bodies need to even function. Iron essentially helps our muscles use oxygen for energy and protein maintenance. It’s recommended that women ages 18 and up get 15- 18 milligrams of iron each day, while men ages 18 actually only need 8 milligrams.
Many people who start a plant-based diet experience fatigue simply due to a lack or iron, and often make the assumption (which many of us have probably done), that it’s because of a lack of iron because they’re not eating meat anymore. Thankfully, this isn’t true. Iron can be consumed through a variety of plant-based foods, but it’s important to know what iron-rich foods to eat so your body gets the nutrients you need. Iron-based supplements derived from synthetic iron has potential side effects, so it’s much better to get iron from your foods.
There are some amazing sources of iron to add to your diet. Here are some ideas that don’t take too much thought and there’s a little here something for everyone. These sources are anti-inflammatory, unlike meat, and also easy for your body to absorb.
Add Some Lentils
Beans and lentils (a legume) are both great sources of iron. If you love beans, then eat plenty of them, but if you don’t, then be sure to try lentils instead. Lentils are possibly one of the best sources of iron in a vegan diet, containing 8 percent of your needs in just a 1/4 cup serving. Add a little to a lunch salad, cook some up with some of your favorite condiments to serve as a side dish, or even use it in replacement to meat in a “meaty” sauce or “meat”loaf. They’re also great in a curry-spiced soup!
Try Some Spirulina
This superfood (when bought from a reputable brand that does routine testing for contaminants) is rich in some of the most important nutrients your body needs, iron being one of those. Containing 80 percent of your daily iron needs in a TEASPOON, spirulina can easily be added to a smoothie. Just be sure not to consume too much of this superfood. A little will go a long way, not to mention, it’s more cost-effective to use the recommended serving size of one teaspoon and eat other iron-rich foods in addition to this superfood algae. Spirulina also contains Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, iodine, and Vitamin A. All of these are important for metabolic health, muscle health, immune health, and brain health.
Sprinkle Some Seeds or Make a Spread
Sunflower, pumpkin, chia, and hemp seeds are all great sources of iron and protein. Though they each contain different amounts, they’re all richer than nuts of any type, (though cashews and almonds aren’t too shabby), and many are also easier to digest. Hemp seeds are also a good source of complete amino acids, boasting 45 percent of your daily iron needs in 3 tablespoons. Raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds contain anywhere from 8-10 percent of your daily iron needs in a 1/4 cup, and chia seeds contain roughly around the same amount, depending on the brand you choose and if you choose milled or whole chia seeds. Use these in raw energy bites, smoothies, sprinkle them on a salad or puree them into a spread in place of nut butter. Even natural peanut butter is a good option if you don’t like some of these seed options.
Eat Your Greens
Greens won’t provide all the iron you need each day, but they are a good source of iron and important parts of a healthy diet. No matter if you eat them cooked or raw, greens promote better health. Try a variety of greens to see which ones you like. Keep in mind that the darker the green is, the more iron it contains (kale, spinach, collards, etc.). Aside from salads and green smoothies, greens provide warmth to soups, wraps, and a variety of cooked entrees.
Pseudo-Grains (Grain-Like Seeds)
Amaranth, quinoa and teff are all three very high in iron and are great grain-free options that cook up like grains, but are actually seeds at heart. Often referred to as pseudo-grains, these seeds promote a healthy body due to their hearty iron content, along with amino acids (protein) that they contain.
Oats are another good source of iron, with 8 percent in a 1/2 cup serving. If you’re a gluten-free eater, go with certified gluten-free oats, and look for the ELISA certification (which is one of the strictest testing method for gluten-free foods). Oats are a simpler grain to digest than many other grains and can be cooked up savory or sweet, or enjoyed raw and soaked overnight for easier digestion and a sweeter flavor. Oats also contain B vitamins and magnesium that assist in a healthy metabolism that will boost the benefits of iron.
Enjoy Your Cacao
Cacao is possibly one of the healthiest sources of iron you can eat. It contains 8 percent of your daily needs in just 2.5 tablespoons of the raw powder. Cacao nibs and whole cacao beans may contain more or less depending on the type you choose. Be sure you choose raw cacao to avoid types with processed sugars and unhealthy milk fats or refined oils. See these yummy recipes with raw cacao, and don’t feel so badly about your love for this phenomenal, antioxidant-rich food. Your body loves it!
For tips on staying healthy on a plant-based diet, see Don’t Give Up! Learn How Not to Let Your Vegan Diet Make You Sick, and be sure to check out Nutrient Pairings That Improve Your Health for more tips on staying healthy while eating a plant-strong diet!
Lead Image Source: Lentil Loaf with Tomato Glaze