Table of contents:
- What is the role of iron in the body?
- What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
- The best sources of plant iron
- Other sources of plant iron not to be overlooked
- How to increase iron absorption?
Video: Vegetable Iron: What Are The Best Sources?
2023 Author: Lynn Laird | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 21:10
Iron deficiencies in people who eat meat are very rare. But if you are a follower of the vegetarian or vegan diet, certain deficits may appear. We are talking about a lack of vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and of course - iron. That is why, it is crucial to adopt a well balanced diet in order to avoid any deficiencies. So, contrary to popular belief, there are excellent sources of plant iron and we will pay special attention to them in this article while answering the questions that plague vegetarians and vegans.
What is the role of iron in the body?
Iron is one of the minerals essential for the proper functioning of the body. It plays a fundamental role in the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and the storage of it in the muscles. In short, it is crucial for building up hemoglobin in red blood cells, myoglobin in muscles, and many enzymes and proteins that the body needs to function properly.
Typically, iron is found in two forms: heme and non-heme. The first type is of animal origin while the second - of plant origin. As for the recommended daily allowance, it is 18 mg per day. However, it can vary depending on the sex, age and physiological state of the individual. For example, men, lactating and postmenopausal women need 9 mg per day. This amount increases by 16 mg for regulated women and 27 for pregnant women.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
As already mentioned, the body needs iron to make hemoglobin - the protein that is contained in red blood cells and is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body. When there is a shortage of hemoglobin, tissues and muscles do not get enough oxygen. Therefore, they cannot function properly. This leads to the development of anemia. And although there are different types, iron deficiency anemia is the most common, affecting over 30% of the world's population. But how exactly do symptoms of iron deficiency manifest?
So in some cases, people with hemoglobin deficiency show no symptoms. However, it is important to learn about the most common ones, especially if you are a fan of vegetarian or vegan diets. Here they are at a glance:
- Unusual fatigue: one of the most common signs of limited oxygen supply
- Paleness: It appears on specific areas such as face, lower eyelid and nails and occurs as a result of low hemoglobin levels.
- Shortness of breath: It occurs because of low hemoglobin levels, which means the body is not able to efficiently transport oxygen to muscles and tissues.
- Headache and dizziness: Limited oxygen supply can cause blood vessels to swell, which creates pressure and results in headaches.
- Heart palpitations: In iron deficiency, the heart works harder to carry oxygen, which results in heart rhythm disturbances.
- Dry and damaged skin and hair: this phenomenon is also explained by the lack of oxygen and can even cause hair loss.
- Swelling and pain in the tongue and mouth: The tongue may turn pale and cracks may appear at the corners of the mouth. To this are also added mouth ulcers.
- Restless legs syndrome: This neurological disorder is characterized by an urgent need to move the legs during periods of relaxation. These unpleasant sensations are particularly active at night.
- Cold hands and feet: a very common symptom that can be explained by the lack of oxygen.
The best sources of plant iron
As already mentioned earlier in our article, heme iron is found in foods of animal origin while non-heme iron comes from plant sources. For information, in terms of bioavailability, heme iron is absorbed much more efficiently than non-heme iron. However, it is estimated that 10-15% of total iron intake comes from animal sources. On the other hand, 90% comes from plant sources! A pretty impressive statistic! And after we've thoroughly discussed this important takeaway info, let's get down to the basics and take a look at the most popular sources of plant iron!
- Legumes: lentils, beans and peas are among the foods richest in plant iron.
- Pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flax seeds.
- Nuts: Almonds, pine nuts, cashews and macadamia are an excellent source of plant iron.
- Vegetables: tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, heart of palm, asparagus, leek.
- The leafy greens are one of the best sources of vegetable iron as spinach, kale, chard, cabbage and beet rider.
- Fruits: Fruits are generally not considered a source of plant iron, but some of them like plums, olives and blackberries prove to be a great option.
- Whole grains: amaranth, spelled, oats, quinoa.
- Herbs: cumin, thyme, ginger.
Other sources of plant iron not to be overlooked
One of the superfoods, algae is rich in many nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Ao-nori is the most abundant species in vegetable iron with an impressive 234 mg / 100 g content. Other preferred types are sea lettuce, Atlantic wakame, nori, and spirulina.
The following source of plant iron might surprise you, but it turns out to contain 48.5 mg / 100 g. This is the unsweetened cocoa powder which is also packed with antioxidants.
The dried apricots are not only rich in antioxidants, vitamin A and also contain copper but plant iron: 5.2 mg / 100 g.
The dark chocolate is another good source of iron plant that provides 18% of the recommended daily intake. What's more, this delicious treat also offers a composition rich in fiber, magnesium, manganese and antioxidants.
A sweetener considered healthier than sugar, molasses contains 4.72 mg / 100 g of plant iron, providing approximately 10% of the recommended daily allowance. It is also rich in selenium, potassium, vitamin B6, magnesium and calcium. However, despite its high nutrient content, molasses is high in sugar and should be consumed in moderation.
The coconut milk is a vegetable milk rich in fat but a good source of many vitamins and minerals including magnesium and manganese. What is more, it also contains a satisfactory amount of iron, more precisely 3.8 mg per 118 ml.
Last but not the least source of plant iron, soybeans and derived foods are full of iron. Indeed, a cup of soy contains about 8.8 mg of iron, which provides 49% of the recommended daily intake. The same amount of natto, a Japanese fermented soy food, provides 15 mg or 83% of the RDI.
How to increase iron absorption?
As already clarified, heme iron found in meat and in animal products is generally more easily absorbed compared to non-heme iron from plants. For this reason, the RDI is 1.8 times higher for vegetarians and vegans. However, there are various strategies to optimize its iron absorption. Here are just a few:
- Increase the intake of foods rich in vitamin C: citrus fruits, melons, strawberries, dark green leafy vegetables, peppers.
- Choose foods rich in Vitamin A and beta-carotene: carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, squash, red peppers, apricots, oranges and peaches.
- Avoid drinking coffee and tea with your meals as these two hot drinks can reduce the absorption of plant iron by 50-90%. Ditto for egg yolk, calcium and zinc.
Beware of iron overload because, like iron deficiency, it makes the body more sensitive to infections. Be sure to eat a well-balanced diet and consult your doctor if you want to take tablets.