IRON; essential for development of red blood cells important for immune health.
A mineral often highlighted as something vegans are more likely to be deficient in, but we're not the only ones. In fact some of the high risk groups include pregnant or lactating women and adolescent females due to their increased demands.
Good sources of iron include-
Beans, lentils, chickpeas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, tofu, peanut butter, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, almonds, fortified cereals, fortified bread, dark chocolate, dried figs, dried dates, dried apricots, dark leafy green veg.
Vegans and vegetarians are considered a high risk group as meat provides roughly 25% of an average meat-eater's dietary iron. The great news is plant based foods contain iron too, and with a well planned diet there's no reason to become deficient.
Although there is one caveat: plant-based iron (also known as non-haem) is harder to absorb than the iron found in animal foods (haem) so vegans should aim to eat more iron rich foods and take steps to improve absorption.
Furthermore, both the NHS and British Dietetic Association support vegan diets throughout all stages of life, so being vegan shouldn't stop you from getting all the iron you need to live healthy and happy.
How much iron do I need daily?
Children & Adolescents:
0-3 months 1.7mg, 4-6 months 4.3mg, 7-12 months 7.8mg, 1-3 years 6.9mg, 4-6 years 6.1mg, 7-10 years 8.7mg, 11-18 years 14.8mg (females) 11.3mg (males).
19-50 years 14.8mg (females) 8.7mg (males). 50+ years 8.7mg (females and males).
• The recommended targets for iron intake assumes 75% will come from plant iron and the other 25% animal sources
• Therefore, aim slightly higher than these recommended amounts as we know plant iron isn't as well absorbed as animal sources
• These estimates should cover 95% of the population, so if you're wondering why you've never been deficient and don't seem to eat huge amounts of iron, it might be because your requirements are lower. Similarly, if you eat lots of iron rich foods and still struggle with deficiencies your requirements may be higher than 95% of the population
• If you're feeling fatigued, losing your hair, get ill often, had lots of mouth ulcers/sores you may be deficient. Make sure you go to your GP for a blood test, as anaemia left untreated can cause long term issues.
Maximise your iron absorption by-
• Having a small glass of orange juice with iron-rich meals (vitamin c aids absorption of iron).
• Sprouting seeds and beans (reduces phytates found in pulses which counteract iron absorption).
• Steaming green leafy vegetables (cooking increases the bioavailability of iron in the gut).
• Take fortified vegan-friendly cereals for breakfast (can provide you with up to half of your daily target).
• Choose iron-rich snacks
• Avoid tea and coffee around meal times (tannins found in these drinks inhibit iron absorption).
By our resident registered dietitian: Sam Gould RD PgDip BSc @the.vegan.dietitian