Just because you eat a mostly or exclusively plant-based (vegetarian or vegan) diet there is no need to freak out about where you are going to get your iron from. The good news is there is heaps of iron in your veggie food!
Non-haem iron is high in most plant-based diets as staples like wholegrains, legumes, tofu and green leafy vegetables are all all iron packed. The only difference is that non-haem iron is not as easily absorbed as haem iron which is found in meat. Non-haem iron just needs a bit of help with absorption and this is where vitamin C comes in (as it assists naturally with absorption). Fruits and vegetables also tends to be high is vitamin C so automatically a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best way to maintain great iron absorption, naturally (without the need for synthetic supplements). Broccoli for example is high is both iron and vitamin C. In most cases, cooking increases the amount of available non-haem iron in vegetables. For example, the body absorbs 6% of the iron from raw broccoli, compared to 30% from cooked broccoli.
Other than the well known citrus make sure to include the following high vitamin C foods on rotation: black currents, melon, kiwi fruit, strawberries, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, papaya and guava.
Don’t worry you don’t have to eat an orange with every meal!
For examples think:
- Lemon as part of your salad dressing is a great place to start.
- A wholegrain pasta dish topped with a vegetable sauce full of sun ripened tomatoes.
- A hefty salad laden with green leaves, legumes and slices of citrus.
- Baked bell peppers stuffed with wholegrain Pilaf sweet with dried fruit.
- Herb laden dishes including fresh coriander, chives, thyme, basil and parsley.
- Pack your breakfasts and desserts with fresh luscious fruit.
There are a couple more things to keep in mind as they can reduce your absorption of iron.
- Tannins from tea, coffee and wine reduce iron absorption by binding to the iron and carrying it out of the body.
- Excess consumption of soy proteins can limit iron absorption.
- The phytates in wholegrains’ bran can reduce the absorption of iron and other minerals. Soaking grains along with beans, nuts and legumes before cooking them can reduce the phytates levels.
- Choosing genuine wholegrain sourdough bread is the best choice as the long fermentation process naturally reducing the phytates levels.
- Maintaining healthy vitamin A levels also assists the body to release stored iron. Think orange foods: carrots, sweet potato, mango, pumpkin, dried apricots, cantaloupe as well as the ever present: green leafy veg.