By Eirian Hallinan
Most people believe that the key to avoiding iron deficiency is to eat red meat. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, then this is simply not an option. Though the heme iron that’s found in meat is better absorbed by the body than the non-heme iron that comes from plant-based foods, it is still possible to keep your iron levels in check without having to incorporate meat or an iron supplement into your diet.
Things You Should Know
Along with being in a high-risk group for iron deficiency and anemia because of diet restrictions, other factors that may put you at even higher risk include:
- Being a woman of childbearing age. This is because of the blood lost during monthly periods. The risk is even higher in women who experience heavy periods.
- Pregnancy. Your body requires double the iron to keep up with increased blood volume and growing baby.
Those who’ve had gastric bypass surgery, are on chemotherapy or kidney dialysis, or have internal bleeding from ulcers or cancer are also at a much higher risk of developing iron deficiency and anemia.
Are You Iron Deficient?
Knowing the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency is especially important as a vegan because of your increased risk. These can include:
- Pale skin and nail beds
- Concentration issues
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Feeling cold
- Fast heartbeat
- Chest pain
People with severe anemia crave non-food items, such as ice and dirt, and some experience an unusual tingling or crawling sensation in their legs, known as restless leg syndrome.
If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of iron deficiency, see your healthcare provider who can help rule out illness and recommend the best course of treatment.
5 Things You Should Eat
Ensuring that you get enough iron in your diet can help you avoid iron deficiency. The following are 5 iron-rich foods to help you do just that.
- Soybeans. Perfect in a hearty soup or meatless chilly, one cup of cooked soybeans contains almost 9 mg of iron.
- Lentils. This versatile legume can be enjoyed with pasta or in a soup, or even just on their own with a little garlic, salt, pepper, and drizzle of olive oil. One cup of lentils contains close to 7 mg of iron.
- Blackstrap molasses. Though exactly a tasty treat, blackstrap molasses can be used to substitute half the molasses in your favorite gingerbread or molasses cookie recipe. Just two tablespoons contains 7.2 mg of iron!
- Tomato puree. A cup of tomato puree contains close to 5 mg of iron. Use it to make your own pasta sauce or add it to soups and stews.
- Cereal. Hot or cold—it’s all a great source of iron! Cream of wheat and oatmeal contain anywhere from 4.5 to as much as 7 mg of iron in a ¾ cup serving while dry cereals contain around 4 mg per serving.
Other iron-rich vegan and vegetarian-friendly foods worth mentioning are quinoa, tofu, Tempe, and tahini.