Sep 13 2010


(Photo: Not one of my children)

When I became vegan, one of my concerns was iron deficiency. Primarily because it is so ingrained in our culture that meat is the holy grail to iron, and with the exception of chicken liver it’s not true. However, I don’t even know a lot of non-vegs who will eat that!

We simply do not need meat or animal bi-products to get most of the vitamins and nutrients we need. One notable exception is vitamin B12; we take a supplement and eat fortified cereals.

I found some great charts to help explain better alternatives to getting enough iron for all ages.

Recommended Intake:

Age Group RDA (mg/day)
Male Female
0-6 months No RDA;
AI = 0.27
AI = 0.27
7-12 months 11 11
1-3 years 7 7
4-8 years 10 10
9-13 years 8 8
14-18 years 11 15
19-50 years 8 18
51+ years 8 8
Pregnancy n/a 27
Lactation, < 18 years n/a 10
Lactation, 19-50 years n/a 9

Here’s How:

Iron exists in two forms—heme and nonheme. Heme iron is part of the hemoglobin and myoglobin molecules in animal tissues. It is found in meat and other animal sources. About 40% of the iron in meat is in the heme form. Nonheme iron comes from animal tissues other than hemoglobin and myoglobin and from plant tissues. It is found in meats, eggs, milk, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods. The body absorbs heme iron much more efficiently than nonheme iron.

Food Sources of Mostly Heme Iron (Contain Some Nonheme As Well)

Food Serving size Iron content
Chicken liver, cooked 3-½ ounces 12.8
Oysters, breaded and fried 6 pieces 4.5
Beef, chuck, lean only, braised 3 ounces 3.2
Clams, breaded, fried ¾ cup 3.0
Beef, tenderloin, roasted 3 ounces 3.0
Turkey, dark meat, roasted 3-½ ounces 2.3
Beef, eye of round, roasted 3 ounces 2.2
Turkey, light meat, roasted 3-½ ounces 1.6
Chicken, leg, meat only, roasted 3-½ ounces 1.3
Tuna, fresh bluefin, cooked, dry heat 3 ounces 1.1
Chicken, breast, roasted 3 ounces 1.1
Halibut, cooked, dry heat 3 ounces 0.9
Crab, blue crab, cooked, moist heat 3 ounces 0.8
Pork, loin, broiled 3 ounces 0.8
Tuna, white, canned in water 3 ounces 0.8
Shrimp, mixed species, cooked, moist heat 4 large 0.7

Food Sources of Nonheme Iron

Food Serving size Iron content
Fortified breakfast cereal 1 cup 4.5-18 (check Nutrition Facts label)
Pumpkin seeds 1 ounce 4.3
Soybean nuts 1/2 cup 4.0
Blackstrap molasses 1 tablespoon 3.5
Bran 1/2 cup 3.5
Spinach, boiled 1/2 cup 3.2
Red kidney beans, cooked 1/2 cup 2.6
Lima beans, cooked 1/2 cup 2.5
Cashews, dry roasted 1 ounce 1.7
Enriched rice, cooked 1/2 cup 1.2
Prunes, dried 5 prunes 1.1
Raisins, seedless 1/3 cup 1.1
Acorn squash, baked 1/2 cup cubes 1.0
Whole-wheat bread 1 slice 0.9
Egg yolk 1 large yolk 0.7
White bread, made with enriched flour 1 slice 0.7
Apricots, dried 3 apricots 0.6
Peanut butter, chunky 2 tablespoons 0.6
Cod, broiled 3 ounces 0.4

Tips For Increasing Your Iron Intake

The amount of iron your body absorbs varies depending on several factors. For example, your body will absorb more iron from foods when your iron stores are low and will absorb less when stores are sufficient. In addition, certain dietary factors affect absorption:

  • Heme iron is absorbed more efficiently than nonheme iron.
  • Heme iron enhances the absorption of nonheme iron.
  • Vitamin C enhances the absorption of nonheme iron.
  • Some substances decrease the absorption of nonheme iron. (Consuming heme iron and/or vitamin C with nonheme can help compensate for these decreases.)
    • Oxalic acid, found in spinach and chocolate—However, oxalic acid is broken down with cooking.
    • Phytic acid, found in wheat bran and beans (legumes)
    • Tannins, found in tea
    • Polyphenols, found in coffee
    • Calcium carbonate supplements

To increase your intake and absorption of dietary iron, try the following:

  • Combine heme and nonheme sources of iron.
  • Eat foods rich in vitamin C with nonheme iron sources. Good sources of vitamin C include:
    • Bell peppers
    • Papayas
    • Oranges and orange juice
    • Broccoli
    • Strawberries
    • Grapefruit
    • Cantaloupe
    • Tomatoes and tomato juice
    • Potatoes
    • Cabbage
    • Spinach and collard greens
  • If you drink coffee or tea, do so between meals rather than with a meal.
  • Cook acidic foods in cast iron pots. This can increase iron content up to 30 times.

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