Hi friends! Today we are discussing another micronutrient that is often of concern for people on plant-based diets (although it can be a concern for many people on non-plant based diets, as well) and I want to help those who are trying plant-based diets of any kind to be wise about their diet, because going plant-based elicits a few nutrition-specific concerns (more on that here). Specifically, we are chatting about iron. What is iron? And who is at risk for iron deficiency?
I hope this post is helpful if you are curious about how much of the micronutrient you need, and how you can ensure you get enough iron. If you take anything away from this post, I hope it’s that while many people suggest fortified cereals and multivitamins as dietary sources of iron, these sources do not always contain iron. Organic cereals and many gummy multivitamins do not contain iron, so be sure to read labels if you rely on these products as sources of iron in your diet.
Anyways, let’s dive in! Iron time!
Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy adults. Your needs may vary based on medical status, lifestyle, or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical care.
What is Iron? And What Do You Need it?
Iron is a mineral that is an essential component of hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to tissues all over your body.
In addition to playing a major role in ensuring oxygen is delivered to tissues throughout the body, iron supports muscle metabolism and fosters healthy connective tissue. It’s also essential for neurological development and physical growth, and the synthesis of certain hormones.
What are the two major types of iron found in food?
There are two main forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal foods, including meat, eggs, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods.
Heme iron has a higher bioavailability as compared to non-heme iron, meaning your body absorbs it better.
How much iron do I need?
The amount of iron you need depends on your age, gender, and life-stage.
- Birth to 6 months: 0.27 mg
- 7-12 months: 11mg
- 1-3 years: 7mg
- 4-8 years: 10mg
- 9-13 years: 8mg
- 14-18 years female: 15mg; 14-18 years male: 11mg
- 19-50 years female: 18mg; 19-50 years male: 8mg
- Pregnancy: 27mg
- Lactation: 9-10mg
- 51+ years: 8mg
What foods contain iron?
Many foods naturally contain iron, and many foods have iron added to them. Cereals and instant oatmeal packets are often fortified with iron. Some veggie burgers and plant-milks are also fortified with iron. Read labels to see how much iron your foods contain.
- Fortified breakfast cereals (1 cup): 5-18mg depending on the brand/variety. Several varieties (such as Total, and Kellogg’s All-Bran Wheat Flakes) contain 18+ mgs per cup
- Cream of Wheat (3 tablespoons): ~9.9 grams
- Oysters (3 ounces): 8mg
- White beans (1 cup): 8mg
- Beef liver (3 ounces): 5mg
- Cooked Lentils (½ cup): 3mg
- Tofu (½ cup): 3 mg
- Dark Chocolate (40grams – slightly less than ¼ cup): 2.7 mg
- 1 medium baked potato: 2mg
- Chickpeas (½ cup): 2mg
- Beef (3 ounces): 2mg
- Cocoa Powder (1 tablespoon): 1.44mg
- Chicken, roasted with skin (3 ounces): 1mg
- Molasses (1 tablespoon): 0.944mg
Foods high in phytates (like many legumes, some nuts, and grains) and polyphenols (found in cereals and legumes) can also inhibit iron absorption. Tannins (found in tea) can also limit absorption. Vitamin C, however, can help absorption.
Iron supplements can also supply iron. Many people who take iron supplements experience GI symptoms, including constipation and nausea. Pairing the supplement with food can help reduce symptoms.
What are some common foods you might think have iron, but don’t?
Many people rely on fortified cereals or supplements to meet their iron needs. But, it’s important to note that not all cereals and not all multivitamins contain iron.
For example, most organic cereals and grain products are not fortified, and contain little to no iron. If you rely on cereal for your iron or b vitamin needs, be sure to read labels and select fortified cereals, consider getting your iron from other foods, or take a supplement.
When you are looking at dietary supplements, it’s important to note that many multivitamins, especially gummy multivitamins, do not contain iron. That’s right – many gummy multivitamins do not contain iron, including many prenatal gummy vitamins.
Be sure to read your supplement labels – especially if you are taking a gummy prenatal – and if your supplement does not contain iron, incorporate a different iron supplement, or consider getting your iron from foods (depending on your needs).…