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Iron and a Vegan Diet

Iron and a Vegan Diet


4 minute read

Iron is a hot topic on the subject of nutrient deficiencies, and a nutrient that gets a lot of beef (pun intended) when discussing vegan and plant based individuals. Below is a list of some surprising iron facts you need to know.

You can eat meat and still be iron deficient.

Iron deficiency is overall a common nutritional deficiency in the world affecting about 25% of the global population, particularly young women and children¹.  However, vegetarians who eat a varied and well-balanced diet are not at any greater risk of iron deficiency anemia than non-vegetarians². Many vegetarian foods have a naturally high source of iron and a diet rich in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals, and green leafy vegetables provides an adequate iron intake for plant based eaters. 

There are dangers in having too much iron and you should not supplement iron if you have not been confirmed deficient by a blood test.

Iron overload is an excess of iron in the body. Excess iron in vital organs, even in mild cases of iron overload, increases the risk for liver disease, cancer, heart attack or heart failure, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism and in some cases premature death. Iron mismanagement resulting in overload can accelerate such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s, early-onset Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Iron overload can also be inherited (genetic) or acquired by receiving numerous blood transfusions, getting iron shots or injections, or consuming high levels of supplemental iron. 

The treatment for iron overload is iron reduction therapy. A person's hemoglobin is key in the physician's decision of iron reduction therapy. If the patient's hemoglobin level is sufficient to tolerate blood removal (phlebotomy), the doctor can provide either therapeutic phlebotomies or can recommend that a patient routinely donates blood. When a patient's hemoglobin is too low for phlebotomy, iron reduction will likely require iron-chelation, which is the removal of iron using specific drugs. In some situations, the physician may use a combination of these two therapies.

If you are concerned with your iron stores, we recommend getting diagnosed by finding a health professional to administer a simple blood test to assess if you need a supplement, however, we do not feel it is safe to offer iron in Ode for the above reasons.

Pairing iron-rich plant based foods with vitamin C rich foods increases iron absorption 

A balanced vegan diet may be naturally high in vitamin C which tends to increase iron absorption of non-heme (plant) sources. Adding vitamin C to a vegan meal increases non-heme iron absorption by up to 6-fold.³ This is another reason vegan diets may not necessarily be deficient in iron. 

Below we have made a list of our favorite sources of plant based Iron as well as sources of vitamin c to ensure you are increasing absorbability:

  • 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses: 7.2 mg of iron
  • 1 cup cooked lentils: 6.6 mg of iron
  • 1 cup cooked spinach: 6.4 mg of iron
  • 1 cup cooked kidney beans: 5.2 mg of iron
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas: 4.7 mg of iron

Foods high in Vitamin C

  • Cantaloupe
  • Citrus fruits and juices, such as orange and grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries
  • Watermelon

 

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¹De Benoist B, McLean E, Egli I, Cogswell M, editors. Worldwide prevalence of anaemia 1993–2005: WHO global database on anaemia. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2008. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2008/9789241596657_eng.pdf (accessed Mar 2012).

²Angela V Saunders, Winston J Craig, Surinder K Baines and Jennifer S Posen Med J Aust 2013; 199 (4): S11-S16. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.11494 Published online: 29 October 2013 Mayo Clinic (2019). Iron deficiency anemia. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ iron-deficiency-anemia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355040.

³Thane CW, Bates CJ, Prentice A. Risk factors for low iron intake and poor iron status in a national sample of British young people aged 4–18 years. Public Health Nutr 2003; 6: 485-496.

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