One of the nutrients many people are hesitant about, especially for women, when they consider going vegan is iron. And so it should be - iron is a very important component of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body, so if you don't have enough iron, your body can't make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, leading to iron deficiency anaemia.
However, thankfully it is incredibly easy to get enough iron whilst on a vegan diet. The UK guidelines recommend 8.7mg a day for men over 18, 14.8mg a day for women aged 19-50 years and 8.7mg a day for women over 50, and here is a list of iron-rich foods from plants which will easily help you reach your goal...
- Beans (10.8 mg in half a can black turtle beans!)
- Legumes such as lentils and peas
- Tofu, tempeh and soybeans
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
- Tomato paste
- Grains such as oats, spelt and quinoa
- Blackstrap molasses
But, now here is the big but: although there is a lot of iron in vegan food, it is a little bit harder to absorb which is why you should incorporate the following elements into your day or meal to increase the absorption of iron:
1. Eat vitamin C-rich foods: Consuming vitamin C-rich foods together with foods rich in non-heme iron may increase the absorption of iron by up 300%. Trinking orange juice at meals, for example, is an easy way to do this.
2. Avoid coffee and tea with meals: Drinking coffee and tea with meals can reduce iron absorption by 50-90%
3. Use a cast iron pan: Foods prepared in a cast iron pan tend to provide two to three times more iron as those prepared in non-iron pans
4. Add lynsine: Consuming plant foods like legumes and quinoa that are rich in the amino acid lysine together with your iron-rich meals may increase iron absorption
So, in summary, there are a huge range of ways you can get enough iron on a vegan diet - the important thing is that it is absorbed well. It's really nothing to stress about if you have a few of these key ideas in the back of your head - since going vegan my blood tests have been perfect! Remember you can always supplement iron if it becomes an issue or if you'd like to stay safe as you transition to a more plant based diet.