There are a lot of plant-based foods which are chock full of iron. But, unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, the iron in these foods isn’t always very absorbable by the body. Natural chemicals which are frequently found in plant foods decrease our bodies’ ability to absorb iron (bioavailability). These main iron blockers are:
- Phytic Acid: High amounts found in seeds and whole grains.
- Oxalic Acid: High amounts found in dark leafy greens, chocolate, tea, coffee, and some berries.
- Polyphenols: High amounts found in soy, peanuts, whole grains, tea, and many fruits and vegetables.
Spinach, for example, is often cited as one of the best vegetarian sources of iron. But, because spinach is high in oxalic acid, we probably absorb less than 10% of the iron in spinach.
With bioavailability taken into consideration, here are the real best vegan sources of iron.
*The RDA for iron for menstruating adult women is 18mg and for men it is 8mg
*The amount of iron listed in milligrams doesn’t represent the amount which your body will actually absorb!
Fruit Sources of Iron
These fruits contain a significant amount of iron. They also have relatively low levels of oxalic acid and phytates plus high levels of vitamin C (which increases iron absorption):
- Raisins: 1 cup = 3.1mg
- Prune juice: 1 cup = 3mg
- Olives: 10 jumbo = 3mg
- Avocado: 1 fruit = 1.1mg
- Dried apricots: 10 halves = 1mg
Vegetable Sources of Iron
These vegetables still do contain oxalic acid. However, the levels are relatively low while still providing a significant amount of iron:
- Asparagus: 1 cup = 4.4mg
- Endive: 1 head = 4.3mg
- Peas: 1 cup = 2.5 mg
- Acorn squash: 1 cup = 1.9mg
- Dandelion greens: 1 cup raw = 1.7mg
- Kale: 1 cup = 1.2mg
- Turnip greens: 1 cup cooked = 1.2mg
Grain, Bean and Legume Sources of Iron
Grains, beans and legumes tend to be very high in phytic acid. However, they also often have very high levels of iron. Even if the phytic acid blocks a significant amount of iron from being absorbed, the foods are still often good vegetarian sources of iron. These are the best grains, beans, and legumes for iron because they have lower levels of phytic acid while still providing high amounts of iron:
- Lentils: 1 cup = 6.6mg
- Chick peas: 1 cup = 4.7mg
- Quinoa: 1 cup = 2.8mg
- Wheat germ: 1 ounce = 1.8mg
- Brown rice: 1 cup = 0.8mg
- Sprouted beans or seeds *
* Soaking and sprouting are both ways to reduce the phytic acid levels in foods. If you were to soak/sprout beans or seeds before eating them, they would become much better vegetarian sources of iron.
TIP: Add a splash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to the soaking water of your beans, grains or seeds. This breaks down phytic acid!!!
Other Vegetarian Sources of Iron
These foods are some of the best vegetarian sources of iron you will find:
- Morel mushrooms: 1 cup = 8mg
- Brewer’s yeast: 1 ounce = 5mg
- Spirulina: 1 teaspoon = 5mg
- Blackstrap molasses: 1 tablespoon = 3mg
Note: Spirulina also binds to iron and will cause excess amounts to be excreted. So do not take spirulina at the same time as your iron supplement!