Iron contributes to the formation of hemoglobin, which enables the transport of oxygen in the blood. It also helps in the formation of myoglobin, which stores oxygen in the muscles. The mineral iron is also involved in the production of enzymes that regulate metabolism. You can find a list of foods that contain iron in the table above.
Higher Iron Requirement During Exertion
If you engage in physically demanding activities such as endurance sports or strength training, you may have a higher iron requirement compared to individuals who do not exercise. This is because, due to your increased energy needs, you require more oxygen to supply your muscles. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, which is responsible for the transport of oxygen in the blood. A deficiency in iron can lead to reduced oxygen delivery to your muscles, resulting in poorer athletic performance.
There are several reasons why you may have a higher iron requirement:
- You sweat during exercise and lose iron through sweat.
- If you are building or repairing muscles, you need more iron for the production of hemoglobin and myoglobin.
- You require more energy to perform your athletic activities. This increased energy demand can lead to your body needing more iron to maintain oxygen transport in the blood.
- If you have injuries or inflammation, you may need more iron to support healing.
- Training at high altitudes can also increase iron requirements since the body produces more red blood cells at high altitudes to enhance oxygen transport.
Keep an eye on your iron intake and make sure to include enough iron-rich foods in your diet.
Other Groups of People with Higher Iron Needs
Consuming iron-rich foods may be necessary for various groups. The list reveals who may need it, among other things:
- Pregnant women need more iron to support fetal development and meet the increased blood demand during pregnancy.
- Breastfeeding mothers need more iron to support the growth and development of the baby and meet the iron demand during milk production.
- Women lose blood during menstruation and therefore need more iron to compensate for the iron loss.
- Individuals who experience blood loss due to injuries, surgeries, or gastrointestinal disorders may require more iron.
- People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may have higher iron needs as plant-based foods generally contain less iron than animal products.
- Individuals with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis may have higher iron needs as these conditions can hinder the body's ability to absorb iron from food.
- Excessive alcohol consumption can impair iron metabolism and prevent the body from absorbing iron from food.
- Individuals with iron deficiency anemia have low hemoglobin levels in the blood due to a lack of iron.
- People who regularly donate blood have higher iron needs. The iron loss caused by donation should be compensated for by consuming iron-rich foods.
A blood test can be useful to determine the current iron status of the body. Subsequently, measures can be taken to prevent iron deficiency or iron excess. Iron deficiency or iron excess can be addressed.
Consume more Iron-rich Foods in a Vegan Diet
Vegans often have a higher iron requirement compared to people who consume animal products. This is because iron from plant-based foods (non-heme iron) is not absorbed by the body as efficiently as iron from animal sources (heme iron). While plant-based foods do contain iron, other components such as phytates and oxalates can inhibit iron absorption.
However, with a balanced and varied vegan diet, the iron requirement can be met just as well as with a diet based on animal sources. Therefore, vegans should look out for iron-rich foods.
The following list provides some iron-rich foods:
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas are excellent plant-based sources of iron, according to the table. They are rich in non-heme iron, which may not be absorbed as easily by the body as heme iron from animal sources. Nevertheless, they are an important source of iron in a vegan diet. Soy products like tofu and tempeh are also very good sources of iron with high iron content. This table shows which legumes have high iron content.
- Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and arugula have a higher content of iron. More information about iron-rich vegetables is available in this table.
- Dried fruits like apricots, plums, raisins, and dates are rich in iron. You can find the table of iron-rich fruits here.
- Seeds and nuts such as sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and almonds have higher amounts of iron according to the iron table. You can find more seeds and nuts with a high iron content in this table.
- Whole grains and products like oats, quinoa, millet, and whole wheat bread are considered iron-rich foods. More iron-rich grains can be found on this page.
- Plum juice, blackcurrant juice, pomegranate juice, cherry juice, and pineapple juice are iron-rich beverages.
- Some iron-rich herbs and spices include parsley, thyme, marjoram, dill, turmeric, and basil. They contain a significant amount of iron, especially when dried. Therefore, they are listed at the top of our table with high iron content.
Improving Iron Absorption
The absorption of iron from plant-based foods is not as efficient as from animal sources. In the list, we present some ways to improve the absorption of iron from plant-based sources:
- Vitamin C promotes the absorption of iron from plant-based sources. So, you should consume iron-rich foods together with vitamin C-rich foods. Examples of Vitamin C-rich foods are citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and kiwis. Here's the vitamin C food table. Similar to Vitamin C, citric acid can also improve iron absorption. ⇒ Citric acid-rich foods
- Vitamin A may potentially enhance the absorption of iron from plant-based sources. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and beef liver. ⇒ Vitamin A food table
- The two amino acids methionine and cysteine can help improve the body's absorption of iron. If methionine or cysteine is present in the body, they can bind to iron molecules and enhance the process of iron absorption. ⇒ Methionine foods and Cysteine foods
- Certain substances in foods can inhibit iron absorption. Examples of these are phytates found in whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Oxalates found in spinach and rhubarb can also affect iron uptake. Reducing the consumption of these foods can increase iron absorption. Soaking legumes and whole grains before cooking can reduce the amount of phytic acid that inhibits iron absorption.
- Fermentation of legumes and soy products can enhance the availability of iron. A good example of this is tempeh, which is made from fermented soybeans.
- Coffee and tea can hinder iron absorption. It is recommended to separate the consumption of these beverages from iron-rich meals.
- Taking calcium supplements at the same time as iron-rich foods can impede iron absorption. Again, it is advisable to separate their intake.
Designing an Iron-Rich Diet
By combining various iron-rich foods, you can achieve a nutritious diet. Here are some examples of an iron-rich day:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with nuts and fruits or whole grain bread with avocado and tomatoes or a green smoothie with spinach, banana, and almond milk.
- Snacks: Hummus with vegetable sticks, an apple with almond cream, or a cereal bar with dried fruits and nuts.
- Lunch: Quinoa salad with chickpeas and vegetables, lentil soup with whole grain bread, or tofu and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice.
- Snacks: A handful of almonds or cashews, or a banana with peanut butter.
- Dinner: Grilled tofu and broccoli skewers, whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and vegetables.
- Desserts: A cup of yogurt alternative with berries and nuts, or indulge in dark chocolate.