13 vegetarian foods high in iron
It is important for vegetarians to eat lots of different sources of iron from diet. But which foods for vegetarians are high in iron, you might ask?
You can find here a list of vegetarian foods high in iron. Even better, you can consult a vegetarian dietitian for specialized services all across Canada!
What is iron?
Iron is a mineral that plays multiple roles in the body. It is a component of hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells. It carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
Where Does Iron Come From?
There are different types of iron depending on the source. Heme iron is found in animal products and non-heme iron is found in plant foods.
There are lots of vegetarian foods high in iron. However, non-heme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron.
It is important to eat high rich iron foods for vegetarians and pair it with a source of vitamin C to maximize absorption.
Why Do You Need Iron?
It is important to eat foods high in iron as a vegetarian since it plays a role in energy production. Iron also plays a role in detoxification, in learning processes as well as the function of the immune system.
It is important that children have adequate iron intake since it is essential for their growth.
Low iron levels can lead to medical conditions such as iron deficiency anemia.
13 high iron foods for vegetarians
Here are the best high iron foods for vegetarians:
They are foods high in iron and protein for vegetarians.
Soybeans have high amounts of iron at 6.5 mg for ¾ cup (175 mL). This represents 45% of the DV for vegetarians.
On the other hand, tempeh is also an iron rich food. There is 3.2 mg for ¾ cup (175) which represents 22% of the DV.
For the same portion, tofu is a high iron vegetarian food with 2.4 to 8 mg of iron, which is 17-56% DV. This varies depending on the type of tofu.
Soy products like tempeh and tofu are good vegetarian foods high in iron and B12. They are enriched in vitamin B12 to meet the needs of vegetarians and vegans.
Lentils are another good source of iron. There is 4.1-4.9 mg of iron in ¾ cup of cooked lentils. They also contain lots of protein.
Beans like white, kidney and navy beans are foods with a high iron content for vegetarians. This also includes other types like pinto, black and lima beans that all contain between 2.6-4.9 mg of iron per ¾ cup.
Cashews are the nuts with the highest amount of iron with 2.2 mg per ¼ cup. They also contain lots of good fats and other vitamins and minerals. It is best to eat raw cashews as they are more rich in iron.
Pumpkin and sesame seeds:
There are a couple of seeds that deserve their spot on this high iron vegetarian foods list. Pumpkin and squash seeds contain lots of iron, from 1.4 up to 4.7 mg per ¼ cup.
Other seeds like sesame seeds contain even more iron with 1.4 mg per tablespoon (15 mL). Flax and hemp seeds also contain a good amount with around 0.8 mg of iron per tablespoon.
Fortified foods still count as high iron foods on the vegetarian list. It might seem strange to still eat baby food as an adult but infant cereals are an excellent source of iron. They offer 18 mg of iron in ½ cup of dried cereal. Crazy right? One serving exceeds the daily needs for vegetarians.
Cream of wheat:
This is another vegetarian food high in iron. Cream of wheat contains 5.7 mg of iron for ¾ cup. It is enriched in iron which is helpful to classify cream of wheat products as foods that are high in iron for vegetarians.
Oatmeal is also a great source of iron. Its iron content varies between 4.5 to 6.6 for ¾ cup. Oats are very nutrient rich foods with lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
Surprisingly, even sugar can be high iron foods for vegetarians. Blackstrap molasses offer 3.6 mg of iron per tablespoon (15 mL)! This can seem like the perfect way to obtain lots of iron through diet but molasses are very rich in sugar. You should eat it with moderation.
Vegetables are not often high iron vegetarian foods. However, tomato paste is very rich in iron because of a higher tomato concentration with 4 mg for ½ cup.
The beauty about plant compounds is that some vitamins and minerals can interact together. Tomato paste is rich in vitamin C which helps with iron absorption!
You might have heard about the high iron content of spinach because of Popeye. Although spinach is not a very high iron vegetarian food, it still has quite an interesting amount of iron at 2 to 3.4 mg per ½ cup.
There can be a lot of misinformation in the media about nutrition. Seek help from a vegetarian dietitian to understand what foods are high in iron for vegetarians.
Fruits do not contain lots of iron. Prune juice has a decent amount of this mineral of 1.6 mg of iron for ½ cup. However, be careful as prune juice also has a small laxative effect!
Dried fruits are high iron foods for vegetarians since they are dehydrated. ¼ cup of dried apricots contains 1.6 mg, which is the same amount of iron as for the prune juice. Eat it in moderation as dried fruits are quite high in sugar!
How Much Iron Do I Need?
Vegetarians and vegans have higher iron needs than non vegetarians. This is due to the fact that non-heme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron. Vegetarians have needs 1.8 times higher than non-vegetarians.
Vegetarian women from 19-50 years old have needs of 32.4 mg/day, since they still have regular menstrual periods and have to compensate for blood loss. On the other hand, vegetarian men and post menopausal women (51+ years old) have needs of 14.4 mg/day.
The Bottom Line
Iron is a very important mineral for the functioning of the body. It is important for vegetarians to eat foods high in iron for anemia prevention.
This article provides a list of what vegetarian foods are high in iron. In fact, these plant foods are also very nutritious and contain lots of important nutrients for health. You should eat a variety of different dietary iron sources to meet your daily needs.
Revised by: Alyssa Fontaine, vegan registered dietitian