Plant-Based Sources of Iron

by in Healthy Tips, June 22, 2013

handful of nuts
Iron is an essential nutrient in our diets; it’s necessary to transport oxygen and nutrients to our cells. Deficiencies are quite common, especially for vegetarians. Sure, we tend to think of animal products like beef, chicken and eggs as good sources of iron (which they are) but there are several vegetable sources of iron as well.

Heme iron (the type found in animal products) is more easily absorbed by our bodies, but that doesn’t meal non-heme (vegetarian) sources are not. Here are some plant based sources of iron and tips for preparing and eating them to maximize absorption.

Vegetarian Sources of Iron

  • Legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans, black beans, chickpeas
  • Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal
  • Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, squash, pine, pistachio, sunflower, cashews, unhulled sesame
  • Vegetables: tomato sauce, Swiss chard, collard greens
  • Other: blackstrap molasses, prune juice

Did you know:

  • Studies have shown that vitamin C (found in citrus, bell peppers, and berries to name a few) aids in the absorption on non-heme iron.
  • Oxalates (found in greens and some grains) can inhibit the absorption on non-heme iron.  That is why the iron found in spinach and kale is not easily absorbed.
  • Calcium (found in dairy, greens, and tofu) can inhibit the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron.

So how do you maximize absorption on non-heme iron? It’s a little confusing when you realize that some of the foods that contain iron also contain nutrients that inhibit absorption. Here are some tips:

  • Studies have shown that eating smaller meals that include calcium-containing foods allow for better absorption.
  • Eat vegetarian iron sources on their own or paired with a vitamin C-containing food.
  • Don’t pair diary with plant based iron sources.
  • Eat your greens because they are really good for you, but don’t count on them to be a good source of iron.

Easy incorporation:

  • Snack on edamame, it’s a great source of protein as well.
  • Snack on beans or add them to a soup or grain salad.
  • Make a tofu and bell pepper stir-fry.
  • Snack on nuts and seeds.

Recipes to try:

Corn and Black Bean Salad with Basil-Lime Vinaigrette
White Bean Dip with Pita Chips
Fried Rice with Edamame, Scallions and Tofu

Katie Cavuto Boyle, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, personal chef and owner of HealthyBites, LLC. See Katie’s full bio »

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Comments (22)

  1. […] if (!window.OX_ads) { OX_ads = []; } OX_ads.push({ "auid" : "423083" }); document.write(''); See full article at Food Network Other stories:The Veggie Table: Foods That Sound Vegan, But Really Aren’tHawaiian Breakfast […]

  2. Elaine says:

    I haven't followed the food network. I am a healthy eater. Recent flurry about Paula Dean was disturbing. 30 years ago, Really? Can anyone be forgiven for anything? Very narrow minded of you. I work in a multi-ethnic environment. And everyone thought your treatment of her was harsh. Will make a point of not following this network. There are plenty of other sources for recipes.

  3. Gail says:


  4. Edward says:

    With Paula gone their ratings will be in the toilet. Who would have thought that being politically correct would cost them money?

  5. Jennifer says:

    Way to step into the new millineium Food Network leave those hurtful words in the past along with Paula Deen way to set the standard…

  6. Charlotte says:

    Attn: Food Network executives
    There are many other sources of finding new recipies. Paula Dean made a public apology and she told the truth as she remembered it. Are all of you so free of quilt and sin? Would you be willing to confess to the world the things you have said and done that would have hurt other people? Paula Dean bared her soul to the world and you repay her by firing her!!. She has worked long and hard to get to where she is and I commend her for it and her honesty. Food Network is not on my list of TV programs to watch any more.

  7. BROC says:

    I have about had it with knee jerk reactions from corporate America running scared. 40 years ago most White people in this country stood right along side of segregation. Separate eating facilities, schools etc. So, now should we all just curl up and die? Desegregation could NOT have been accomplished without sympathetic whites who years earlier had black maids. Get over it Life goes on and things have changed. Quit bringing up the past. I am moving away from your station. Might want to check with your other celebs and see how they feel about losing viewership and then advertising money. By the way, solicit your staff and lets see their responses to the same question Dean had to answer. Gonna fire them?

  8. staci campbell says:

    way to treat someone who help build your network! If this is what kind of way you treat someone when they are down I WILL NEVER WATCH your network again!!! Look in the mirror and say your perfect so you have the right to keep your job! GOODBYE

  9. loraxforest says:

    So, let's all get a fair judgment.. after all this is America right.. or perhaps Food Network is run by Communists or the Tali Ban… Paula start you own network.. I 'll be there. I want to be a fly on the wall of all of the idiots at Food Network… hum .. I wonder what they say and do.. covertly… :( At least she was honest

  10. loraxforest says:

    PS good bye forever Food Network.. you sux.

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