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10 vegetarian foods rich in iron


Are you vegetarian? Or perhaps just looking to replace some of the meat in your diet? Want to know which vegetarian foods are also high in iron?

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia worldwide.1 So check our top ten foods high in iron and therefore a great source of this vital mineral for vegetarians.

Skip to: Importance of iron | Requirements | Issues for vegetarians | Vegetarian iron rich foods

Why do I need iron in my diet?

Whether you choose to eat meat or not, we all need iron in our diet, for our bodies to function well and repair themselves.

An essential mineral, iron is critical in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.

Insufficient levels of iron in the body can otherwise lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

How much iron do I need?

How much iron do I need?

The amount of iron needed each day varies, depending on your gender and age:

  • 7mg a day for men over 18
  • 8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50
  • 7mg a day for women over 50

Is it harder for vegetarians to find foods high in iron?

In a nutshell – both yes and no! While people connect a lack of iron to vegetarian food, iron is actually more abundant in the vegetarian foods that meat eaters consume than they might otherwise realise.

In fact, the general UK meat-eating population get only a quarter of their iron from meat and fish, while the remaining three quarters of their dietary iron comes from cereals, bread, fruit and vegetables.

So if you are looking to replace that one quarter of your iron intake, then here are some foods that you should look out for.

The best iron rich foods for vegetarians

1. Soya – tofu and tempeh

Soya and the foods made from it are great sources of iron.

You buy soya beans whole (sometimes as edamame beans) or else find them made into products such as soya chunks, mince, or tofu and tempeh.

A 200g serving of tempeh contains 5.4mg of iron and a 200g serving of firm, silken tofu contains 3mg of iron.

2. Lentils

2. Lentils

The humble lentil is actually pretty rich in nutrients.

While incredibly rich in iron providing 6.6mg per cup of cooked, it is also full of significant amounts of protein, fibre, folate and manganese.

This makes lentils a great all-rounder, and an incredibly versatile source of iron for vegetarians.

3. Beans and legumes

Baked beans, kidney beans, white beans and peas are other brilliant sources of iron for vegetarians.

Chickpeas and black-eyed peas win here though – they have got the highest iron-content of all the beans. A drained can of chickpeas contains 2.71mg and a 130g serving of organic black-eyed peas has 3.6mg of iron in it.

Except soya beans, which are so iron-rich we have put them in a category of their own at #1!

Handpicked content: Chickpeas for iron, protein and fibre

4. Nuts

Cashews, pine nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts - they are all great sources of iron for vegetarians. In fact, a cup of lightly salted mixed nuts contains approximately 5mg of iron!

Although, cooking these may damage some of their nutrients, so choose raw options where possible.

And remember that while they have many beneficial properties, nuts are also high in fats, so bear in mind the portion sizes.

5. Seeds

Pumpkin, linseeds, hemp and sesame are very iron rich. For example, one cup of mixed seeds contains around 7mg of iron.

And so are the products derived from them. Don’t forget that tahini, made from sesame seeds, is an ingredient in houmous and other products, so there are other ways to get iron from seeds that you may not have realised.

6. Green leafy vegetables

6. Green leafy vegetables

It’s not all about the spinach for this one.

Gram for gram, spinach, kale and other greens can contain more iron than their red meat counterparts. Top loin steak for example, contains 1.9mg of iron per 100g, whereas 100g of raw spinach contains 2.7mg of iron!

The wonderful thing about these vegetables high in iron is that they also contain vitamin C, which makes absorbing all that iron even easier.

7. Dried fruits

Apricots are the big iron sources in the dried fruit category, offering roughly 4.6mg per cup.

But dried peaches, prunes, figs and even raisins are also high in iron – so it might be worth opting for a mixed bag so you’re getting a variety.

8. Dark chocolate

Yes you read that right! Dark chocolate. This one surprises many people. The darker and the less sweetened the chocolate, the more iron you will be getting. Let’s say you pick up a bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cacao solids, in 100g you’ll be getting 11.9mg of iron!

So the occasional chocolate indulgence may not make you feel quite so guilty now…

9. Fortified cereals

Plenty of cereals are iron rich by their very nature, and plenty of breakfast and other cereals have also been fortified to help us get the iron we need. Specifically, two cups of fortified puffed wheat contains 7.6mg of iron.

10. Vitamin C

10. Vitamin C

Ok, vitamin C doesn’t contain any iron at all. But vitamin C can really make a significant difference to your iron absorption.

Green leafy veg contain vitamin C already, so alone they provide readily absorbable iron.

Adding citrus fruits, peppers, courgettes, onions to your cooking, or drinking a citrus drink alongside your meal can help your body capture the iron and turn it into iron your body can better use and store.

The final say

And there you have it! The top 10 iron rich foods that are suitable for vegetarians. For more inspiration, check out these two delicious vegetarian recipes packed with iron.

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