A large percentage of the vegan demographic is growing every year and the requirement for plant-based alternatives of animal-based sources is surging as well. While there are several benefits of such a life-style for both the individual and their community, the nutritional profile of their consumption, especially their iron requirements are a bit controversial. There’s this widespread assumption that non-vegetarians more easily meet their iron requirements than vegans. Well, this could be true to an extent for which it’s essential to understand the types of the element, iron, the star of our discussion today.
Iron is an essential metal for our biological functions mostly accredited for its ability to carry oxygen in blood throughout our body and crucial for several other developmental and growth aspects. Well, our star here, is like the wonder twins, with the same ability but with a slight variation in two different forms. Heme iron, like Jayna, is derived from animal sources like poultry, meat and fish also known for its high absorption rates. Whereas non-heme iron, like Zan, is derived from plant-based sources, a bit slower in absorption compared to the heme type.
How Much Iron Do I need?
- Men 19+ years: 8 mg daily (15 mg for plant-based lifestyles)
- Women 19-50 years: 18 mg daily (32 mg for plant-based lifestyles)
- Women 51+ years: 8 mg daily (15 mg for plant-based lifestyles)
- Pregnant women 19-50 years: 27 mg daily (49 mg for plant-based lifestyles)
- Breastfeeding women 19-50 years: 9 mg daily (16 mg for plant-based lifestyles)
Well, the above data is conclusive from various studies and researches conducted. The recommended intake for plant-based diet followers is 1.8 times more than those who choose heme iron sources, but this surge is not compulsory if you also concentrate on absorption along with iron sources. Apart from the intake, there’s also restriction on the consumption levels stay below 45 mg/day but this can also vary depending on the individual as women in the reproductive age, carrying mothers and the sports jocks might require higher level, so it’s always better to have a rendezvous with your medical physician about your recommended level of iron intake.
Let’s Farm Iron, Shall we?
Well, absorption rates directly from the sources might be a bit challenging for vegans, it’s not impossible, cause people eat ox and think they are as strong as the ox, but the ox became strong eating the grass, right? I think that’s enough motivation for us to scout for plant-based iron.
Shake a Leg, with Legumes
Legumes are a great source of iron. With several varieties in different forms offering a humongous percentage of your daily required value. For instance, soybean offers 55% of DV and its by-products natto, tofu and tempeh offer 84%,14% and 25% of DV. Also varieties of beans including Lima beans, navy beans, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas are in close competition with the soybeans providing you about 23-26% of DV of iron required but the star of these varieties is the red and white kidney beans with highest contribution of about 29-37% of DV. The above are not only great sources of iron but also generous contributors of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Nuts And Seeds for Your Iron Needs
Nuts can be your on-the-go source of iron. With the seed varieties like pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flax seeds contributing to about 9-22% of your DV and nuts like almonds, cashews, pine nuts and macadamia nuts giving you about 4-9% of your DV, the most stunning thing about these is that, they can just slide inside your gut without any cooking or complicated cleaning procedures, very easy to consume and also great sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Veggies And Fruits for the Win
There’s nothing that can go wrong here, as several vegetable and fruit varieties help you meet iron requirements and also help you with absorption. Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Beets and several other leafy greens most commonly found in our kitchen could help you hit your iron goals. The catch here is, even though they contain significant amounts of iron, their large volume to weight ratio, makes the iron content more pronounced when cooked and consumed. So, make sure you eat the rainbow, every single day.
Absolve Your Confusion About Iron Absorption
Spotting and consuming sources of iron is just half-way to the finish point, because the factors regarding absorption is what takes you flying to that goal point. The iron rich plant-based sources sometimes also contain phytates and polyphenols which can interfere when combined in non-heme iron for absorption. Hence, a commonly recommended method to consume them with maximum absorption capacity is to soak our nuts, grains, seeds and legumes and thoroughly wash them before you consume them.
Do you need a shot of espresso or a cup of tea, to function, then you might wanna slow down. The tannins in these beverages when consumed close to or during meal time could block our iron absorption from the foods we consume. Hence, consume your favorite latte or Chai , 30 minutes prior to or after your meals.
On the brighter side, there are ways to increase absorption through food rich in Vitamin-C such as citrus fruits, kiwis and berries, broccoli and bell peppers, which increase your body’s ability to absorb iron. Hence a squeeze of lemon on your curries, pastas, tacos, burgers or even a dash of those berries in your oatmeal, puddings, toasts could help meet your iron goals.
Less Efficiency? Could be Iron Deficiency
When your body isn’t getting its quota of iron, you could be having an iron deficiency commonly known as anemia. This is a condition where the number of blood cells in the body is less than normal level. Notable signs would include fatigue, tiredness, skin paleness, brittle nails and so on. So, ensure you get your daily dose through your diet and consult a physician just in case to check if you require supplements.
Also be sure not to overdo it as excess amounts of iron has its own trail of negative effects including constipation, diarrhea, nausea, liver dysfunction and heart diseases. So, find the balance and be consistent until we meet again.