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How To Increase Iron Absorption on a Plant Based Lifestyle

At Plant Based Life we regularly have people asking us how to increase Iron levels, as it seems to be a common nutrient that people can be deficient in. Low levels of iron can make you feel tired, irritable and sluggish, or become very pale in appearance. The body needs iron to help it carry out many vital processes, such as energy production, growth, development, and the synthesis of hormones. Iron also helps to keep the immune system healthy.

About 65 percent of iron in the body is in the hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in the red blood cells that is responsible for transporting oxygen to the cells. Smaller amounts of iron are present in myoglobin, which is a protein found in muscle tissue. Myoglobin supplies oxygen to the muscles and provides energy during physical activity.

There are many ways to increase Iron levels and if you are very low you may have to supplement and your health professional can recommend an Iron supplement. I have used Spatone many times,  please be aware I have no affiliation with this particular product but I found it very good for raining my own iron levels.

There are numerous ways to increase the amount of iron in your body, please be aware that just because you are eating numerous iron rich foods there are other factors you may not be absorbing the iron and other nutrients from these foods. These can be due to the food combinations, poor gut flora, other digestive disorders, stress levels etc.

Studies have consistently shown that vitamin C aids in the absorption of non-heme iron. But Oxalates (found in greens and some grains can inhibit the absorption on non-heme iron.  That is why the iron found in spinach and kale is not easily absorbed on its own so you have to add vitamin c. Calcium (found in foods such as greens, and tofu) can inhibit the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron.

It’s confusing when you realize that some of the foods that contain iron also contain nutrients that inhibit absorption. Here are some tips:

  • Eating smaller meals that include calcium-containing foods allow for better absorption.
  • Eat vegetarian iron sources on their own or paired with a vitamin C-containing food.
  • Don't pair dairy with plant-based iron sources. Obviously once you are 100% plant based this isn’t an issue but if you are in transition phase could be a factor.
  • Eat your greens because they are really good for you, but don't count on them to be a good single source of iron.
  • Also Snack on nuts and seeds, also edamame are good source and also for protein. Also legumes; lentils, beans, chickpeas etc are good, but a very important tip is to make sure that they have been soaked in water for at least 12-24 hours before either cooking them or sprouting them for a raw salad. This should also be the same process for nuts and seeds as well, the reason for this is that they contain phytates that can inhibit iron absorption, but by soaking and activating the enzymes in these foods it makes the iron and other nutrients easy to digest.

Here are some plant based foods that contain iron;

Food

Amount

Iron (mg)

Blackstrap molasses

2 Tbsp

7.2

Lentils, cooked

1 cup

6.6

Tofu

1/2 cup

6.6

Spinach,cooked

1 cup

6.4

Kidney beans, cooked

1 cup

5.2

Chickpeas, cooked

1 cup

4.7

Soybeans,cooked

1 cup

4.5

Tempeh

1 cup

4.5

Lima beans, cooked

1 cup

4.5

Black-eyed peas, cooked

1 cup

4.3

Black beans, cooked

1 cup

3.6

Pinto beans, cooked

1 cup

3.6

Prune juice

8 ounces

3.0

Quinoa, cooked

1 cup

2.8

Beet greens, cooked

1 cup

2.7

Tahini

2 Tbsp

2.7

Peas, cooked

1 cup

2.5

Cashews

1/4 cup

2.0

Brussels sprouts, cooked

1 cup

1.9

Potato with skin

1 large

1.9

Bok choy, cooked

1 cup

1.8

Raisins

1/2 cup

1.5

Apricots, dried

15 halves

1.4

Watermelon

1/8 medium

1.4

Almonds

1/4 cup

1.3

Sesame seeds

2 Tbsp

1.2

Sunflower seeds

1/4 cup

1.2

Turnip greens, cooked

1 cup

1.2

Millet, cooked

1 cup

1.1

Broccoli, cooked

1 cup

1.0

Kale, cooked

1 cup

1.0

Tomato juice

8 ounces

1.0

You Can Download Our Free Iron Pamphlet Here

John Cawley

John Cawley

John Cawley is the founder of Plant Based Life. John is a Personal Trainer that believes every weakness can be turned into a strength and is passionate about instilling this belief with all clients. John has a lot of experience in helping clients who have had injuries, and is dedicated to helping everyone keep moving and leading a healthy lifestyle, with a big focus on movement, mobility and functional training.