Vegan Iron-rich Foods / Iron-rich Diet
The functions of iron in the body are versatile. However, it is primarily needed for blood formation and oxygen transport to the cells. The daily iron requirement can be easily met with a vegan diet. In plant-based foods, iron is present in the form of non-heme iron. Iron should be consumed throughout the day to consistently provide the body with this essential mineral.
Click here for the table of iron-rich foods.
Below, we have compiled a few selected iron-rich foods that should be regularly consumed as part of an iron-rich diet. These are plant-based or vegan foods. However, it should be noted that the absorption of iron from these foods can be negatively or positively influenced by various acids - see the next two sections.
Iron Absorption Inhibitors
When selecting iron-rich foods, it should be noted that certain acids in plant-based foods hinder the absorption of iron. Thus, foods with high iron content are not necessarily the ones with high bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to how well the iron contained in foods can be absorbed and utilized.
The absorption of iron from grains, legumes, nuts, and certain vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard is negatively affected by plant acids. They contain high levels of phytic acid and oxalic acid, which form a non-absorbable complex with iron, greatly impairing its absorption 1. Additionally, during meals, iron-inhibiting beverages such as tea, cocoa, and coffee containing polyphenols (including tannins and chlorogenic acid) should be avoided. A cup of tea with breakfast, for example, can block about half of the absorbable iron 2. Accordingly, consume these mentioned beverages between meals.
Improving Iron Absorption
By combining iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C (see the vitamin C food table), the negative impact of acids can be mitigated. Vitamin C significantly enhances the absorption of non-heme iron from plant sources, thereby reducing the risk of iron deficiency 3. Carotenoids have also been found to have a similar effect by improving absorption 4. Learn more about foods high in beta-carotene here.
In addition, the bioavailability of iron-rich foods can be improved through cooking and soaking (although this process can lead to the loss of many vitamins) 5. For example, iron from cooked spinach can be better absorbed by the body than iron from raw spinach. However, the respective foods should be cooked for as short a time as possible, as iron is lost during this process 6. Further information on iron absorption can be found here.
Seeds and Nuts High in Iron
The seeds with the highest iron content are sesame seeds (14.55 mg), poppy seeds (9.76 mg), pumpkin seeds (8.82 mg per 100 g), followed by hemp seeds (7.95 mg), chia seeds (7.72 mg), flaxseeds (5.73 mg), pine nuts (5.53 mg), and sunflower seeds (5.25 mg), all of which can also be added to muesli.
The cashew nuts need to be highlighted. They contain a significant amount of iron, with 6.68 mg. Studies have shown that around 50% of the iron present in cashew nuts can be absorbed 7. Additionally, brazil nuts provide a good source of iron with 2.43 mg, of which almost 29% could be absorbed according to the study. However, hazelnuts and walnuts are not suitable for meeting the iron requirement, as even though they contain relatively high amounts of iron, the iron is poorly absorbed (2% and 2.9%).
Stone fruits such as pistachios (4 mg) and almonds (3.7 mg) are also highly iron-rich foods.
Here you can find information on other nuts that are high in iron.
According to the study, legumes, along with nuts, are the best sources of bioavailable iron 8.
Legumes as iron-rich foods
All legumes have a high iron content. soybeans (5.17 mg), peanuts (4.58 mg), lentils (3.33 mg), chickpeas (2.89 mg), white beans (3.7 mg), and green peas (1.54 mg) are the best sources of iron.
According to an in vitro study, iron from green lentils was found to be most easily absorbed (32.6% absorbed) 9. Iron from split peas was absorbed at 25%, while that from red kidney beans was only absorbed at 9.4%.
You can find more legumes rich in iron here.
Iron-rich grains include oats (4.72 mg), spelt (4.44 mg), rice (4.23 mg), millet (3 mg), and corn (2.71 mg).
Pseudo-grains such as canihua (15 mg per 100 g), amaranth (7.61 mg), quinoa (4.57 mg), and buckwheat (2.2 mg) also contain a good amount of iron. However, grains should always be consumed alongside vitamin C-rich foods or beverages such as orange juice due to their high phytic acid content.
For more iron-rich grains, click here.
Vegetables are particularly rich in iron. Some vegetable varieties contain less acids, which allows for better iron absorption. These include Jerusalem artichoke (3.4 mg), lamb's lettuce (2.18 mg), leek (2.1 mg), garden cress (1.3 mg), fennel (0.73 mg), iceberg lettuce (0.41 mg), zucchini (0.37 mg), and potatoes with skin (0.81 mg). Asparagus (2.14 mg) and purslane (2 mg) also have a higher iron content.
Some iron-rich vegetables such as kale (1.47 mg), Brussels sprouts (1.4 mg), and broccoli (0.73 mg) already contain vitamin C, which enhances iron absorption.
Spinach, arugula, and beets contain a lot of acids that inhibit absorption. Therefore, they should be consumed together with foods high in vitamin C.
Herbs as a Source of Iron
Dried herbs and spices contain a significant amount of iron. The most iron-rich herbs include dried thyme (123.6 mg), basil (89.8 mg), marjoram (82.7 mg), dill (48.78 mg), oregano (36.8 mg), and parsley (22 mg). Cumin (66.36 mg), turmeric (55 mg), paprika powder (21.14 mg), and ginger powder (19.8 mg) are also high in iron.
Fruits contain relatively low amounts of iron. Berry fruits such as black currants (1.54 mg), raspberries (0.69 mg), blackberries (0.62 mg), strawberries (0.41 mg), and blueberries (0.28 mg) are among the iron-rich foods. Smaller amounts are also found in the flesh of coconut (2.43 mg), passion fruits (1.6 mg), as well as cherries (0.36 mg), bananas (0.26 mg), and apples (0.12 mg).
In dried fruits such as goji berries (6.8 mg), apricots (6.31 mg), peaches (5.51 mg), plums (3.52 mg), dates (2.6 mg), figs (2.03 mg), and raisins (1.88 mg), slightly higher amounts of iron are present due to the reduced water content.
For more iron-rich fruits, refer to the list.
Iron Content in Mushrooms
Apart from chanterelles, which contain 3.47 mg/100 g of iron, mushrooms are not particularly good sources of iron. However, champignon and shiitake mushrooms contain significantly less iron at 0.5 mg and 0.4 mg per 100 g, respectively.
Processed Products with Iron
Tahini (8.95 mg), seitan (5.2 mg), tempeh (2.7 mg), tofu (2.66 mg), bulgur (2.46 mg), hummus (1.56 mg), soy yogurt (1.06 mg), couscous (1 mg), as well as whole grain products like oatmeal (24.72 mg), rice bran (18.54 mg), whole wheat pasta (3.62 mg), and whole wheat bread (2.47 mg) are recommended products with high iron content.
Nut butters are also considered iron-rich foods. Cashew butter contains 5.03 mg, peanut butter has 1.9 mg, and almond butter has 1.6 mg of iron per 100 g.
In addition, soy burgers can be included in the diet. They contain 2.41 mg of iron per 100 g. Other iron-rich foods include vegan meatballs with 2.16 mg and vegan steak with 2.0 mg of iron.