15 Iron-Rich Foods for Healthy Energy Levels

A bowl of organic spirulina. You can avoid iron deficiency by consuming Iron rich foods such as spinach and pumpkin seeds.
Spirulina and Quinoa Are Considered Iron Rich Foods

Biologically speaking, iron is a trace mineral and an essential nutrient that your body requires to function properly. It helps with immune function, detoxification, and the creation of several proteins and enzymes.[1] One of these proteins is hemoglobin, a complex protein used by red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that occurs when your blood doesn’t contain enough iron, hemoglobin, or red blood cells to transport the oxygen you need from your lungs to your tissues. While there are several types of anemia, iron deficiency is by far the most common. Over 1.6 billion people worldwide are anemic. Of these, several hundred million have iron deficiency anemia.[2] If you suspect that you have an iron deficiency, consult your health care provider. They may want to check your hematocrit levels, which is a test to see if you have too few red blood cells.

There are two types of dietary iron-heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes only from animal sources-meat, poultry, and seafood. Plant sources contain only nonheme iron, which isn’t as easily absorbed by your body as heme.[3] This may be because certain phytochemicals in plants, including oxalates, polyphenols, tannins, and phytates promote slower, more controlled iron absorption.[4, 5]

Despite this, vegans and vegetarians don’t suffer from iron deficiency at any greater rate than meat-eaters do. There may be two reasons for this. First, plant-based diets tend to be high in vitamin C, which acutely increases iron absorption. Second, because vegetables are relatively low in calories and high in nutrients, vegans and vegetarians take in significantly more iron per calorie consumed. In other words, 100 calories of spinach contains as much iron as 1700 calories of steak.[6]

RDA of Iron

To prevent iron deficiency anemia, it’s important to consume the proper amount of iron for your body. Different life stages have different requirements, and women tend to need a little more than men. Consult these charts to find your recommended daily iron intake. Because of the slow, controlled bioavailability of nonheme iron, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommends that vegans and vegetarians consume 1.8 times the RDA for iron.[3, 7]

Iron Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Nonvegetarians

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0-6 months .27 mg .27 mg N/A N/A
7-12 months 11 mg 11 mg N/A N/A
1-3 years 7 mg 7 mg N/A N/A
4-8 years 10 mg 10 mg N/A N/A
9-13 years 8 mg 8 mg N/A N/A
14-18 years 11 mg 15 mg 27 mg 10 mg
19-50 years 8 mg 18 mg 27 mg 9 mg
51+ years 8 mg 8 mg N/A N/A

Iron Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vegans and Vegetarians

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0-6 months .27 mg .27 mg N/A N/A
7-12 months 20 mg 20 mg N/A N/A
1-3 years 12 mg 12 mg N/A N/A
4-8 years 18 mg 18 mg N/A N/A
9-13 years 14 mg 14 mg N/A N/A
14-18 years 19 mg 27 mg 48 mg 18 mg
19-50 years 14 mg 32 mg 48 mg 16 mg
51+ years 14 mg 14 mg N/A N/A

15 Plant-Based, Iron-Rich Foods for Healthy Energy Levels

Some of the most potent plant sources of iron are fortified cereals and flour. However, fortified foods and enriched flour are heavily processed and carry their own health risks.[8] It’s always best to get your nutrition from natural sources. Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based foods that you can incorporate into an iron-rich diet. Here are 15 of the top vegan food sources of iron.

1. Spirulina

A favorite in green juices and smoothies, spirulina is a blue-green algae rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.[9] One tablespoon of spirulina contains 2 mg of iron.[10]

2. Spinach

The list of health benefits from dark leafy green vegetables seems endless. They contain an abundance of antioxidants, folate, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. Most dark leafy greens also have a high iron content.[11] Salad greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and bok choy are all excellent choices, but when it comes to iron,...

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