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Iron Rich Foods

It is a myth that we can only get iron rich foods from animal sources. Iron rich plant based foods also have the added benefit of not being high in saturated fats. What is the health benefit of eating animal foods high in iron but also high in cholesterol and fats? The question I get after "where and how do you get your protein from?", is "how do you get enough iron if you don't eat meat?"! Of course, us vegans are used to these kinds of questions and we are glad that you are asking.

Studies have shown that people on a plant based diet consume at least as much iron as meat eaters and sometimes more. It is true that iron from plant based sources are less well absorbed, but this does not mean that people on a vegan diet suffer iron deficiency any more than a meat eater does.


Iron is a mineral that is found in every blood cell in our body and is needed because it helps us to make haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the protein that is found in red blood cells which carry oxygen to our lungs and other vital organs. We also need iron to keep the immune system working properly and help the brain cells to work normally. Basically we need iron to maintain healthy blood and to enable healthy blood to do its job properly.

Iron deficiency is known to be the most common nutritional deficiency in the world amongst the general population, with severe iron deficiency leading to anemia. You can get an iron deficiency by not getting enough iron in your diet or by not absorbing iron properly. Vitamin C in the diet helps with the absorption of iron, so if you want to enhance the absorption of iron in your diet, try to eat iron rich foods with a food or drink item containing vitamin C. As most vegans' diet is rich in fruit and veg, they often benefit from this nutritional liaison.

You can also increase your iron intake by using ironware when cooking.

You may not be getting enough iron if you feel constantly tired, are prone to infections, have muscle weakness or a lack of concentration. However, too much iron is bad for you too and can lead to toxicity and other problems.

Around two thirds of iron in the body is found in haemoglobin and smaller amounts are found in myglobin which is a protein that helps supply oxygen to muscles. Iron is also stored in the body for future needs.


There are two types of iron and these are heme and nonheme iron. Heme iron is found in animal foods such as red meat, fish and poultry and is considered to be well absorbed by the body. Non heme iron is found in animal foods and plant based foods but plant based foods only contain non heme iron. Heme iron has a higher bioavailability (which means the extent to which it is absorbed and circulated within the body) than non heme iron. Dairy products contain only small amounts of non heme iron.

Also after the iron has been absorbed by the body and reaches the bodily cells, it makes no difference whether the iron was originally heme or non heme iron.

Surely better then to feed your body iron rich foods from good clean sources.

Just because the vegan diet contains a form of iron which is less well absorbed by the body does not mean that people on a plant based diet suffer from an iron deficiency any more than people who eat foods from animal sources do. Studies have shown that iron deficiency is no more common in vegans than that of the general meat eating population. However, vegans do tend to have a lower iron store than meat eaters but there is no known advantage to having a higher iron store and there is also some evidence that lower iron stores is connected to better glucose tolerance which could reduce the risk of diabetes.


Age Male Female Preganant Lactating
7-12 months 11 mg 11 mg
1-3 years 7 mg 7 mg
4-8 years 10 mg 10 mg
9-13 years 8 mg 8 mg
14-18 years 11 mg 15 mg 27 mg 10 mg
19-50 years 8 mg 18 mg 27 mg 9 mg
51+ years 8 mg 8 mg

Information developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (formerly National Academy of Sciences).

It is commonly assumed that the best iron sources are from animal flesh, so I wanted to show that there really isn't much difference between this iron source and plant based sources. The link below lists food items and their iron content:

Click here.

I hope the iron rich foods lists above have shown you that cutting animal foods from your diet does not mean you will have an iron deficiency. As always, I firmly believe that we should get our nutrients and minerals from healthy foods which promote good health and fight disease rather than eat foods which are high in cholesterol and saturated fats. However, if you are a bit of a junk food eater then you may need to take a supplement.

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