Iron A Vegan Diet & Food Combinations
Iron is seen as one of the critical nutrients on the vegan diet as well as on an omnivore diet worldwide. Generally, it is possible to cover iron needs with a plant based diet, if the food intake is optimally combined. It is also important to mention that some have higher iron needs such as pregnant women, breastfeed women, children and teenagers.
What do we need iron for?
Iron is needed for the transportation of oxygen in our blood, as iron makes up the biggest part of haemoglobin. In the muscles iron has the role to store oxygen. It is also important for energy production as well as the creation of transmitters in the body.
When there is a lack of iron in our body, iron reservoirs are activated. If the reservoirs are not enough, the resorption of the iron increases through nutrition.
A lack of iron can lead to a decreased physical capacity and disturb thermoregulation. A chronically low intake of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia.
Bioavailability of iron
Iron is available in both, animal and plant products. It depends on the type of iron if it is well or less well absorbed.
In our body we have the bivalent iron, also called heme-iron. Because of our similarity to animals, this type of iron can also be found in animal products.
Plant products on the other hand have trivalent iron, also called non-heme iron. Trivalent iron tends to form complexes whilst the solubility is very low, even at a pH of> 5. Therefore, it is less well absorbed by the body than divalent iron. In addition to that, it can interact with other food components or be influenced both positively and negatively in the absorption process.
The bioavailability of heme-iron is 15-35%, whereas for non-heme iron it is 2-20%.
How To Increase Iron Resorption
Adding Vitamin C, fruit acids, organic acids and sulfur-containing amino acids to meals can increase iron resorption. Especially Vitamin C can increase resorption by 3 to 4 times.
Some compounds such as oxalates, phytates, tannines and other polyphenols can inhibit iron absorption. Phytates in legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains create complexes with minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc, which inhibit resorption. Soaking, fermentation and sprouting can reduce the amount of phytates.
Lack of Iron
As mentioned before, a lack of iron can lead to anaemia. If there is a lack of iron diagnosed, supplements can be taken when consulted with a doctor. It is not recommended to take supplements when no diagnose has been made.
Plant Sources Of Iron
- Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu
- Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, sesame (tahini), flax seeds, pistachios, sunflower seeds
- Whole grains and pseudo cereal: amaranth, quinoa, millet, oats, spelt, brown rice
- Vegetables: raw fennel, purslane, endive, lamb’s lettuce, cooked salsify, rocket, zucchini
- Dried fruit: peach, apricot, banana, dates
Generally it is again important to highlight that iron is not only critical for vegans or vegetarians but also for omnivores. Therefore, it is important to smartly combine food.
- Hummus with bell pepper sticks
- Orange juice and oatmeal
- Fermented soy products such as miso or tempeh
- Dried fruits and nuts
- Lentils and tomato sauce
- Dark chocolate and strawberries
- Tofu, Broccoli & Tahini
I hope that this article could help you understand the importance of iron for our body and on a vegan diet in general. If there are more questions, feel free to reach out to me at any time.
If you are not sure about how much iron you are getting into your diet, you can always track it using cronomenter.com. I personally really enjoy it, as it really helps me understand what I need to eat in order to hi my targets.