A bit of research and thoughtful meal planning is all it takes to get the iron one needs to feel energetic and strong. For vegans, iron-deficient anemia occurs when we either don’t consume enough iron-rich foods or have increased loss of blood (think monthly cycles). The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron for adults is eight milligrams for men, 18 milligrams for women—27 milligrams during pregnancy and nine milligrams during lactation.
Iron’s Side Kick
The equation is clear: To increase iron, one needs to eat more iron-rich foods. To increase iron absorption, pair these powerhouse foods with those high in vitamin C. Certain nutrients inhibit the absorption of iron. Calcium supplements and dairy foods; tannins found in tea, coffee, and chocolate; oxalates found in nuts, beet greens, and spinach; and phytates found in bran, whole grains and legumes, all hinder optimal iron absorption. However, there are ways of mitigating the effect through sprouting, fermenting, and pairing foods with sources of vitamin C to help increase the absorption of iron.
Not sure how to pair the two sources? Serve a nut butter sandwich layered with slices of mango to decrease the effect of oxalates in nuts. Choose sprouted wheat bread for sandwiches, and marinate some tempeh with bell peppers for Friday night’s potluck. The goal is to pair—at the same meal—foods high in vitamin C with iron-rich foods. It’s ideal that broccoli, bok choy, and other greens are high in both nutrients! Thanks, Mother Nature; she knew all along. The big picture is to eat a varied diet, including iron- and vitamin C-rich foods together, take your calcium supplement between meals, and enjoy what you eat. Flavor black beans with lime juice and greens with lemon, top lentil burgers with fresh salsa, and open up that cookbook for the Thai Mango Tofu with Broccoli recipe you’ve been waiting to prepare.
My favorite source of iron is organic blackstrap molasses, with one tablespoon providing about three milligrams of iron. Try frothing organic soymilk with some blackstrap molasses for a wonderful, iron-rich, hot beverage, with a taste reminiscent of melted marshmallows. Supplementation with a quality form of iron, such as ferrous fumarate or ferrous sulfate, can be an important boost if food alone is not enough. It’s possible to obtain too much iron through supplementation, especially for men and non-menstruating women, so play it safe and ask your doctor for a blood test if you suspect an iron deficiency.
- • Greens (Swiss chard, turnip greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, spinach)
- • Fortified cereals, breads, and pastas
- • Soybeans and tofu
- • Blackstrap molasses
- • Lentils, black beans, beans, beans, and more beans
- • Quinoa
- • Tempeh
- • Tahini and other nuts and seeds