Iron is another tricky subject when people consider cutting down on meat or not eating meat at all. But as you’ll see there are plenty of sources of iron that don’t come from meat or any other animal products.
Iron is a very important nutrient. Anyone who has ever been deficient can attest to that. Without enough iron, your body’s ability to transport oxygen around to all your cells is impaired. It makes you feel tired and you can become pale and breathless. Not nice at all I’m sure.
So without further ado, here are some of the best sources of iron in plants:
- Leafy green veggies including spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, etc
- Whole grains
- Dried fruit, especially dried apricots
- Coconut milk- this one surprised me too!
- Cocoa and dark chocolate- sorry guys, only 70% cocoa content and up counts. But still, yummy!!!!
These are some of the best sources but they do come with a bit of a downside though. Plant sources of iron (this type of iron is known as non-heme iron) contain a substance called phytic acid which binds to the iron so we can’t absorb it. But not to worry, we can break the phytic acid down and increase absorption. You can even do it in some really tasty ways too.
Vitamin C increases the absorption of plant sources of iron. Foods high in vitamin C include tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, peas, cauliflower and fruits like guavas, lemons, oranges, grenadilla, and kiwis. You’ll notice that some of these veggies made the iron list, woohoo for 2-in-1 veggies!
Soak, ferment or sprout your whole grains and dried beans:
All the whole grains that you buy, including oats, millet, quinoa, wheat, brown rice, etc have outer coatings that contain all the awesome nutrients like B-vitamins, calcium, and iron. But these coatings also contain that pesky phytic acid and so do dried beans. So to make sure can absorb the nutrients, you need to soak them in water for 7-24 hours. Usually warm water. You also can add some vinegar, lemon juice, coconut kefir if you can’t use milk kefir. I usually use apple cider vinegar.
So to make sure can absorb the nutrients, you need to soak them in water for 7-24 hours. Usually warm water for the grains. You also can add some vinegar, lemon juice, coconut kefir or milk kefir. I usually use apple cider vinegar. If you are soaking or fermenting them for more than 12 hours you need to rinse them so that they don’t become full of nasty mould and bacteria.
Sprouting them is an extra step, you can just rinse them after you’ve soaked or fermented them, and put them into a clean jar or container with a little bit of water just to keep them damp. Then within 3-24 hours, they start sprouting. You can just rinse them and cook as per normal. Just remember to rinse them if they take longer than 12 hours.
Avoiding tea and coffee:
Sadly tea and coffee hamper the absorption of plant iron too. In winter, and thankfully winter is over though Cape Town where I live, is always a little slow on the uptake, I drink quite a bit of tea to replace some of the water I would usually drink instead since water is cold. Brrrr. After becoming vegan, I really had to start paying attention to when I drink tea and coffee.
You need to be tea or coffee free for about an hour before and after your meal. Two hours is better, but an hour will do. Thankfully as the weather becomes warmer I’ll be back to drinking lots of water. I actually really like water! Fruit juices, especially freshly squeezed ones will also help because of the vitamin C content. Just be careful of the added sugar in a lot the juices you can buy in stores.
Cook your veggies:
Cooking your veggies also helps a little bit. A few minutes of steaming (I love steamed veggies) or quickly boiling them will work nicely. My husband and I often make smoothies in the summer for breakfast and we tend to use spinach quite often, so I know, sometimes it’s nice to eat them raw! But keep it to a minimum and/or be sure to include vitamin C rich fruits and veggies too.
I found this yummy recipe. It’s the perfect combination of iron and vitamin C and delicious flavour:
I hope you found this post helpful. You can see that a lot of the foods are foods that go well together. For the meat eaters out there, when you combine plant sources of iron (non-heme iron) with animal sources of iron (this type of iron is called heme iron which is much easier to absorb), that automatically boosts the absorption of iron from the plant sources.
For those of you who are vegan or vegetarian, or who want to become vegan or vegetarian, you can see that there are plenty of ways to get your iron in. It’s tasty, ethical and can be super healthy! Enjoy!