My challenge with Iron…

…and how I tackled it.

I am a vegetarian for 22 years now and started to become a vegan one year ago. When I got diagnosed with a gluten and oat intolerance as well as a wheat allergy 12 years ago, my iron values have dropped and I was struggling to get it to an acceptable level. I wanted to share my experience with you here in case you might be struggling as well.

What is dietary iron?

Iron is a vital mineral, which is present in many foods. The most important organs, which store iron are liver, intestinal mucosa, and bone marrow.

You can find iron in two forms: Heme and nonheme. Meat and seafood contain both, plants contain only nonheme iron. Which is important to know, as nonheme iron is more difficult to absorb. However, you can use Vitamin C, citric acid or probiotic bacteria in order to support the absorption positively.

Why do you need iron?

The major functions of iron are:

  • Immune defense
  • Oxygen storage in your muscles
  • Oxygen transport in your blood from your lungs to the tissues

So, all in all, you can say in order to feel energized and stay healthy, your body needs iron.

Recommended intake and natural sources of iron

The official Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for women above 18 years is 15mg per day, for men above 18 years it is 10 mg. In case you are pregnant your body requires twice the amount of iron, which is about 30mg per day.

Luckily a plant based diet, even if you have certain food allergies, can provide you enough iron to cover your daily needs.

My top iron sources are [1]:

  • Amaranth (9.0mg per 100g serving) – great to use in your porridge in the morning
  • Tofu (5.4mg per 100g serving)
  • Chanterelle (6.5mg per 100g serving)

Of course, there are plenty more rich iron sources, as you can see below:

  • Parsley with 7.7mg per 100g serving
  • Millet – 6.9mg per 100g serving
  • Lentil – 8.0mg per 100g serving
  • Pumpkin Seeds – 12.5mg per 100g serving
  • Chickpeas – 6.1mg per 100g serving

There are much more, I have just listed the top ones. In case you would like to have a more detailed list, feel free to reach out to me.

Food preventing iron absorption

Knowing what foods inhibit iron might help you to keep your body functioning well and keep your iron levels up.

  • Food high in tannin (e.g. Red wine, black tea)
  • Food high in phytates (e.g. Walnuts)
  • Food with phosphate (e.g. Cola)
  • Food high in oxalates (e.g. Spinach, Beets, Rhubarb)
  • Polyphenol-Rich Foods (e.g. Coffee)
  • Salicylate (e.g. Aspirin)

As a vegan, you might eat a lot of food out of the category with phytates and oxalates, so usually, you need to provide your body with more (1.8 times higher [2]) iron than the recommended dose.


Note all references are linked in the text, with the exception of:
[1] SGE. “Schweizer Nährwerttabelle”, 2015
[2] Mangels R. “Update on the New DRI’s” Vegetarian Nutrition Update Sum 2001;10(4):1-7

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