A good way to meet the iron requirement is through a balanced diet that is rich in iron-rich vegetables. The table above shows which vegetables are high in iron. Below, we will provide more information about vegetables that are rich in iron.
Who has a higher iron requirement?
Groups of people with a higher iron requirement include pregnant women, toddlers, women with heavy menstrual bleeding, individuals with chronic blood loss, and people with certain conditions such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease.
Vegans and vegetarians may also have a higher iron requirement compared to individuals who consume animal products because plant-based sources of iron are less bioavailable than animal-based sources. This is because plant-based iron is in a form called non-heme iron, which the body doesn't absorb as well as heme iron found in animal products. Furthermore, certain substances like phytates and oxalates in plant-based foods can further inhibit iron absorption.
Athletes, especially those who regularly engage in strength training, may also have an increased iron requirement. During strength training, muscle tissue and red blood cells are broken down and need to be rebuilt, which increases the need for iron. Endurance athletes may also have a higher iron requirement due to sweating and the loss of red blood cells. Iron-rich vegetables that are also high in protein can help meet some of the daily requirements. Legumes and green vegetables are examples of such foods. This table shows protein-rich vegetables.
Vegetables rich in iron
In vegan diet, there are many different vegetables that are rich in iron. In the following list, we briefly introduce some of them along with their additional nutrients:
- Spinach is rich in iron and also provides a good source of vitamins A, C, and K.
- Kale is another iron-rich leafy vegetable that is also high in vitamins C, K, and A.
- Broccoli contains iron, vitamin C, folate, and fiber.
- Swiss chard is also a good source of iron and contains other important nutrients such as vitamin C, K, and magnesium.
- Green beans are also very iron-rich vegetables according to the table and a good source of vitamins and fiber.
- Peppery arugula contains iron as well as antioxidants and vitamins C and K.
- Artichokes are a good source of iron, fiber, and antioxidants.
- Sweet potatoes are rich in iron and also provide a good source of vitamin A, C, and fiber.
- Pumpkin contains iron as well as vitamin A, C, and fiber.
- Beets are rich in iron and also provide a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
- Eggplants are another iron-rich vegetable that is also high in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.
- Asparagus has a higher iron content as well as higher levels of vitamin K, folate, and fiber.
- Carrots are not only rich in vitamin A, but also a good source of iron and dietary fiber.
- Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and potassium, and they also provide a good source of iron.
- Bell peppers have a high content of iron and vitamin C, which enhances iron absorption in the body. More information about this can be found in the next section.
To meet your daily iron needs, consuming iron-rich vegetables can be beneficial, especially when done regularly and in sufficient quantities. Also, use the linked tables to discover more iron-rich foods and beverages:
- Iron-rich nuts and seeds
- Iron-rich fruits
- Iron-rich drinks
- Grains and cereals with high iron content
- Iron-rich herbs and spices
Improve Iron Absorption from Iron-Rich Vegetables
While iron is present in many plant-based foods, it is often not absorbed as well by the body as the iron found in animal products. Here are some tips on how you can enhance the absorption of iron from iron-rich vegetables:
- One way is to combine iron-rich vegetables with vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, or tomatoes. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron more effectively. You can, for example, add a bell pepper and tomato salsa to an iron-rich dish or drizzle a lemon vinaigrette over a spinach salad.
- Avoid phytates, which are present in plant-based foods like whole grains, nuts, and legumes and can inhibit iron absorption. Soaking or sprouting legumes and whole grains can help reduce phytates. Also, be mindful not to combine iron-rich foods with foods high in phytates. For instance, you should not serve whole grain bread with spinach or legumes.
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi can improve iron absorption. Fermentation increases the amount of probiotic bacteria in the intestine, which in turn can enhance nutrient absorption.
- Make sure you have enough vitamin A, vitamin B12, and folate in your diet. These nutrients play an important role in the absorption and utilization of iron in the body. ⇒ Vitamin A foods, ⇒ vegan vitamin B12 foods, and ⇒ folate foods
Incorporating Iron-Rich Vegetables into Your Diet
If you want to supplement your diet with iron-rich vegetables, there are many ways you can do this. The list will show you how:
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and arugula can be used in salads or smoothies, or served as a side dish with your meals.
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas have high iron content according to the table. They can be used in soups, stews, or as a side dish with your meals.
- Tomatoes can be used in sauces, soups, or as a topping on pizzas.
- Pumpkin and sweet potatoes are also rich in iron and can be served as a side dish or as a main course.
- Eggplants can be used in various dishes like curries, stews, or as a side dish with your meals.
- Celery can be useful in soups, stews, or as a side dish. You can also enjoy it as a snack with hummus or other healthy dips.
- Asparagus is also another good source of iron. It can be used in many different dishes, such as soups, salads, or as a side to your meals.
Nutrition plan with iron-rich vegetables
As a vegan, it is important to eat iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C-rich foods to improve iron absorption. The following example shows what vegan nutrition plans with iron-rich vegetables and vitamin C-rich foods could look like:
- Oatmeal with almond milk, banana, and berries
- or whole grain bread with avocado and tomato
- or smoothie made with green leafy vegetables (spinach or kale) and orange
- Nuts and dried fruits for a small portion of iron and vitamin C
- Quinoa salad with spinach, broccoli, bell pepper, and chickpeas
- or lentil soup with tomatoes, carrots, and kale
- or vegetable stir-fry with tofu and red bell pepper
- Fruit salad with kiwi, papaya, and strawberries, plus a handful of nuts
- Sautéed tofu with zucchini and mushrooms
- or sweet potato and chickpea curry with green leafy vegetables like Swiss chard
- or whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and spinach