How a Vegetarian can Get Optimal Iron from Food

How a Vegetarian can Get Optimal Iron from Food

We know by now that we need to eat the right foods, need to work out, and do stuff that is healthy for us. Because maintaining good health does not happen by accident, it requires work and smart lifestyle choices. But sometimes when we wake up at 6 am to hit the gym before work or shunning the donuts in breakfast, it’s easy to lose sight of for what are we doing all these. So here are some top articles choices that can keep you motivated to lead a healthy lifestyle and keep diseases at bay.

How a Vegetarian can Get Optimal Iron from Food

If you are a vegetarian, you must keep a close watch on certain essential nutrients, which may be deficient or not easily available in many vegetarian (plant based) foods. As a vegetarian, you should take care to get adequate (as per recommended daily allowance or RDA) nutrients, which a non-vegetarian may not need to worry about. Nutrients that need to be watched closely by a vegetarian include iron (hence, if you are a vegan, you need iron supplement), vitamin B12, protein, calcium, omega-3-fatty acids etc.
, How a Vegetarian can Get Optimal Iron from Food

Why vegetarians should watch for iron intake?

Plant based foods are not deficient in iron, however iron present in foods of plant origin is in inorganic form (unlike iron present in meat, egg, fish etc. which is in heme form or organic form). Iron in food is present in two forms heme form and inorganic form. Heme form of iron is better absorbed (approximately 35% is absorbed) in compare to inorganic form (only approximately 5% is absorbed). Inorganic form of iron present in plant based food need to be converted to organic or heme form before absorption; hence less amount is absorbed.

Conversion of inorganic iron to organic or heme form is facilitated by presence of acid or other reducing substances; hence, addition of fresh fruits (especially citrus fruit such as orange, lemon, etc. that contain ascorbic acid or vitamin C, a reducing substance) can enhance absorption of iron from vegetarian food. Do not forget to add citrus fruit in your regular diet.

Average vegetarian diet contains enough iron (actual iron that is absorbed). However, due to lesser percentage of absorption of plant source of dietary iron (approximately 5% in compare to non-vegetarian diet, where absorption is approximately 18%). Due to lesser absorption, iron deficiency and anemia as a result may be a problem among vegetarians and vegans.

How a vegetarian/vegan can get adequate daily-recommended dose of iron?

Iron rich vegetarian foods (such as spinach, banana, apple, dry beans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, cauliflower and dark leafy greens) should be made part of daily diet. Add citrus fruits and other foods that contain reducing substances and avoid foods that contain alkaline substances such as soda (which by preventing reduction of inorganic form of iron to organic form reduce absorption or iron).

If you are a vegetarian and cannot add iron rich plant foods on your daily diet, you should think of taking iron supplementation.

Special note:

Certain staple cereals such as maize and wheat contain phytates, which forms complex with iron and reduce availability of iron for absorption. Watch out this point too, if you are a vegetarian/vegan.


Image courtesy of Simon Howden /

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