Iron is one of the main nutrients that is considered to be deficient in the vegans, people who do not eat meat, fish, dairy products or eggs. Since iron is a very important essential mineral, vegans and people who plant to go vegan should know which foods contain iron and how it can be replenished through nutrition.
Importance of iron
Iron is an essential mineral that is necessary for the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a red pigment that gives red blood cells their color and transports oxygen in the blood to the body organs.
Human body contains a certain amount of iron (from 3.5 to 4.5 grams), and two thirds of that amount are found in hemoglobin. The remaining part is stored in liver, spleen, bone marrow, and as myoglobin, which stores oxygen in the muscle tissue.
Iron deficiency can reduce the efficiency of many functions inside the human body and it can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by the deficiency of red blood cells. The symptoms of anemia, apart from low red blood cells count, are fatigue, decreased stamina, headaches, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping.
In addition, iron improves the function of the immune system, which is necessary for fighting off infections.
Problem with iron in vegans
Iron exists in two forms, heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron comes from animal sources, like red meat, white meat, poultry and fish, while non-heme iron comes from plants. The problem is that non-heme iron is not easily absorbed in the body and the absorption of heme iron is more complete. Also, other food constituents, like phytates, oxalates and phosphates can affect negatively the iron absorption. This is why it is believed that vegetarians and vegans are at risk of suffering from anemia. They need to increase significantly their intake of non-animal foods containing iron in order to prevent anemia.
Vegan foods rich in iron
Vegans and vegetarians who take care of their health should know which food are particularly rich in iron so they can include them more in their diet and increase the risk of iron deficiency and anemia.
Good vegetable sources of iron include asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, parsley, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, red kidney beans, collard greens, parsley and watercress.
Fruits that are rich in iron include apricots, dates, figs, prunes, raisins and watermelon (although watermelon is technically a vegetable).
Iron is also found in nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, in sunflower seeds, soybeans, tofu, sprouts, oats, chick peas, alfalfa, quinoa, millet and blackstrap molasses.
Vegans and vegetarians can promote the absorption of non-heme iron by increasing the intake of Vitamin C, by adding more citrus fruits, fruit juices, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and green leafy vegetables in the diet, because this vitamin increases the absorption of iron.