No Meat, No Problem: Your Guide to Iron-Rich Foods
Iron is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in how your body produces and deploys red blood cells — and without enough in your diet, you can become anemic, which causes weakness, fatigue and dizziness.
Iron is found in a wide variety of foods and is often associated with red meat. But don’t be fooled! That doesn’t mean meat has more iron than plants! Rather, the iron in meat, called heme iron, is a little easier for our bodies to use than plant-based iron, known as nonheme iron. Unfortunately, that same easy-to-absorb iron in meat may also contribute to coronary heart disease and colo-rectal cancer, so it’s safe to say that you’re better off looking for plant-based iron sources.
Below are some easy ways to add more iron to your meatless meals, but first, let’s talk about how to get the most benefit from plant-based iron. Thankfully, the tricks to maximizing your absorption are simple!
Vitamin C has been shown to help your body increase the absorption of non-heme iron. Plenty of plants, like bell peppers, citrus fruit, kale, melons, Brussels sprouts and parsley, are loaded with this nutrient. So you can get more goodness out of iron-rich foods by adding a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of parsley or a simple green veggie side, to help your body get the most out of its iron content.
On the other hand, phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that makes it harder for your body to absorb certain vitamins and minerals from food. Many plant foods contain phytates, which can be reduced (or in some cases, even eliminated) through processes such as soaking or sprouting. Where possible, opt for versions of the food that have been prepped to reduce their anti-nutrients. For more info on sprouting, check out this article.
Here are 5 foods to boost your iron:
Topping the list at 8 milligrams per serving, this versatile bean can be eaten whole, or mashed to become the base of a yummy veggie burger or dip. It’s also packed with protein, containing 15 grams per cup. Other beans get an honorable mention here: lentils have 3 milligrams of iron per serving, and both chickpeas and kidney beans have 2 milligrams.
Just when you thought we were going to tell you to just eat more vegetables, chocolate is here to save the day! At 7 milligrams per 3-ounce serving, dark chocolate is a delicious and decadent way to add iron in your diet. And to get some vitamin C in there? Try a chocolate-covered strawberry!
Ok, we really do need to tell you to eat more veggies after all. Leafy greens contain up to 3 milligrams of iron per serving, with spinach coming in at the top of the list. Cooking spinach not only opens up new flavor combinations, it increases the availability of its iron. Although leafy greens are naturally high in vitamin C, some of that nutrient can be reduced by cooking, so if you’re steaming, boiling or sautéing your greens, add a squeeze of lemon.
There are many grains that are more water-saving, easier to digest and less allergen-forming than wheat. In addition, many whole grains have an excellent iron content! While wheat has some as well, the quest for iron is a great reason to branch out and try grains such as amaranth or teff, both of which have about 2 milligrams of iron per serving. Brown rice is also an easier-to-find option.
Does anyone need a reason to dig in to a baked potato? Probably not, so it’s pure good news that regular old Russett and red skinned potatoes contain 2 milligrams of iron per serving. Since some of that is in the skin, we suggest not peeling your potatoes prior to baking them.
Armed with all this knowledge, you can confidently walk the path of eating more plant-based foods without having to worry about getting enough iron in your diet. Anemi-what? Not on our watch!