Iron deficiency is not a risk that is specific to vegetarians. It is a worldwide concern and one that is especially common in young women and children.1
Ensuring that your diet contains sufficient iron should therefore be a priority for everyone.
And these two delicious vegetarian recipes are a great starting point if you need to increase your iron intake.
What is iron and why do our bodies need it?
Iron is an essential mineral, vital for our body in helping to make red blood cells, which then carry oxygen around the body.2
Insufficient levels of iron in the body can lead to what is known as ‘iron deficiency anaemia’.
How much iron do we need to consume each day?
The NHS recommends the following daily amounts of iron:3
- 7mg a day for men over 18
- 8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50
- 7mg a day for women over 50
Which are the best iron rich foods for vegetarians?
Getting your recommended daily amount of iron is completely possible with a balanced diet, but sometimes vegetarians and vegans find they need to seek out sources of iron that other people would substitute with meat.
Whether you are vegetarian or not, foods that are high in iron include:
- nuts and seeds
- brown rice
- spinach and broccoli
- dried fruit
Vegetarian recipes which are good sources of iron
If you are looking for some inspiration as to how you can boost your iron intake, here are two delicious recipes that both contain excellent sources of iron.
Why not give them a try if you are thinking about bringing more vegetarian meals into your diet?
Or if you are already vegetarian but perhaps looking for some iron rich inspiration?
They are both quick and easy to prepare, so they will be stress-free for even the most inexperienced cooks.
1. Broad bean bruschetta with watercress
The verdant colours of this easy lunch give away its iron abundance.
Add in a fried or poached egg on top for some extra nutrition and a more substantial meal.
- 100g peeled fresh or frozen broad beans
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ clove crushed garlic
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 2 thick slices bread (sourdough or gluten free equivalent)
- 100g watercress (or other leafy greens you have available)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- A few chives, chopped
- Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Add the beans and cook for 4-6 minutes until tender. Drain and put into a blender with 1 tbsp olive oil, garlic, nutmeg and black pepper. Blend, keeping the texture coarse.
- If using, fry or poach the eggs now.
- Grill or toast the bread and then place on a plate and drizzle with oil.
- Put a handful of watercress on each plate beside the toast and drizzle with the lemon juice, a dash of oil and a pinch of salt.
- Spread the broad bean mix over the toast. Add your eggs and chives on top, if using, and then serve.
2. Iron rich fruity smoothie
A breakfast smoothie is a great way to get iron first thing in the morning.
Make sure you leave plenty of time between this and your morning tea of coffee though, as caffeine can inhibit iron absorption.4
Feel free to adapt this with whatever fruit you have around. We find that keeping a stock of frozen fruit is great for impromptu smoothie making!
You can add milk instead of water, but there is some evidence that calcium can inhibit iron absorption too, so be mindful of how you are combining these.5
The exact amount water you use will depend on the consistency of smoothie you are after. Try a little and add more if you feel you need it.
We love our smoothies with a handful of spinach thrown in. Raw spinach does not flavour the fruity smoothie too much, but it does turn it a rather wonderful shade of green!
- 1-2 fresh bananas
- a handful of spinach
- 2 handfuls of fresh (or frozen) berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or cherries)
- ½ fresh, ripe avocado
- Put all ingredients into a blender, with a small amount of water
- Blend on high for about a minute
- Check the consistency and blend for longer or add more water if required
- Serve immediately
Easy additions to increase your iron intake as a vegetarian
You can also support your iron intake by adding natural sources of iron to your favourite vegetarian meals.
Quick ways to increase the iron food sources on your plate include adding a sprinkling of nuts or seeds, dried fruit or sliced avocado to your next meal. Or try combining lentils with a favourite stew.
For even more support with iron absorption, add in some vitamin C to your diet.
You can find out more about the risk of iron deficiency for vegetarians in our Health Hub article.
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.
Last updated: 11 December 2020