Scientifically Proven! The 7 Best Vegan Iron Sources

Worldwide, more people suffer from iron deficiency than any other deficiency. In developing countries, up to 40% of the female population are severely iron deficient.

anemia prevalence in developing countries

In western countries, the population that is at highest risk for iron deficiency are fellow vegans. In a 2021 study, up to 8% of the participants were shown to be iron deficient. [1]

So while studies on iron status of vegetarians and vegans always highlight that veganism and vegetarianism is beneficial for health conditions such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes: [2]

vegetarians have lower risk of various health conditions

It is clearly obvious, that iron is an essential nutrient that does require special attention.

Even studies that show that vegetarians and vegans are not at higher risk of iron deficiency than meat eaters…

… always highlight that they talk about vegetarians eating a well balanced diet. [3]

vegetarians who eat a well-balanced diet

So while some of us do eat a well-balanced diet, a good portion of us are also camping in the Oreos and French fries zip code.

  • In this video, you’ll discover whether or not you’re in the high-risk population of vegans that might suffer from iron deficiency. Hint: This is not just the campers in the Oreos and French fries zip code.
  • You’ll also discover the top 7, healthy, non-fortified iron rich foods that make it so easy to hit your daily iron targets – that it *almost* feels like cheating.
  • You’ll also discover when to not eat more iron than necessary, because quote: “excess iron can be a problem.”

For those that are new here: I’m Florian, award-winning personal trainer, published author and vegan since 8 years.

florian wüest published author and award-winning personal trainer

So let’s just dive right in:

1. Iron: Plant Foods Vs Animal Foods

To understand why vegans are typically at higher risk of iron deficiency, we have to look at the iron found in animal foods and plant foods.

Animal foods contain heme iron, while plant foods only contain nonheme iron.

What differentiates these two forms of iron is the body’s ability to absorb them. Because heme iron is similar to the iron in our own body, it’s absorbed up to 6x better than non heme iron. [4]

Imagine a factory that produces hummus:

  • If a truckload of hummus arrives, you will quickly have more hummus in the factory.
  • But if a truckload of chickpeas arrive, and you gotta blend them together add oil, spices and all that stuff – chances are high that unless your workers are super motivated – there will not be any more hummus anytime soon.

Our body stores of iron is the hummus factory, and the hummus that arrives is heme iron. And the chickpeas that arrive are non heme iron.

Lower Iron Stores: More Absorption Of Iron In Plant Foods

A big factor that influences the iron absorption of plant foods…

… meaning how much chickpeas is turned into hummus in the factory…

… is how high the current body storage is.

  • If the body has a lot of iron, it will absorb less iron.
  • If the body has little iron, it will typically absorb more.

Imagine this again in the hummus factory:

  • If you can not fulfill your orders and suddenly a truckload of chickpeas arrive, you’re going to treat that load like a gift of God.
  • But if you have more than enough hummus in your factory to fulfill customer orders for years, you’re probably not going to be interested in turning chickpeas into hummus because ain’t nobody got time for that.

Phytate Affecting Iron Absorption

Another factor that influences iron absorption is phytate: Phytate is a component known to reduce iron absorption.

Phytate is found in grains, seeds, legumes and cereals. Which are unfortunately often the foods that are highest in iron.

Phytate binds strongly to iron, so it will inhibit iron absorption in the small intestine. [5]

In this context, you can imagine phytate as this crazy chickpea-loving truck driver. That once the chickpeas arrive at your factory, suddenly steps out with a gun and prevents the hummus factory to get to the chickpeas.

So yes, technically a lot of chickpeas arrived. But because there’s this crazy truck driver there as well, it’s hard to make use of the chickpeas. Or the non-heme iron.

Vitamin C Rich Foods And Iron Absorption

While phytate is the crazy truck driver that prevents iron absorption, Vitamin C is the overly nice truck driver that helps you unload the carriage of chickpeas.

Vitamin C is the most significant enhancer of iron absorption. [6]

Vitamin C taken with a meal can increase absorption of iron up to 6 fold in people with low iron stores. [7]

2. Iron Deficiency

Because generally, iron in plant foods are on average less likely to be absorbed than iron in animal products…

… vegans with non-planned diets are more likely to be deficient in iron.

So, should we all just immediately worry about iron to prevent iron deficiency anemia? Hold on one second.

Let’s first see if you’re in the high risk population of vegans:

The high risk population of vegans

Typically, the highest risk population of vegans are:

  • Women: Because of menstruation.
  • That are obese: As obesity typically goes along with higher inflammation levels that decrease iron absorption. [8]
  • That are not on contraceptives: As contraceptives reduce the total amount of blood that you lose during menstruation by up to 50%.

oral contraceptives and menstrual blood loss

So you’re at risk of iron deficiency – if you’re an obese, vegan woman that is experiencing higher than average blood loss.

Some researchers go so far and say menstrual blood loss is all that matters for iron deficiency. Not whether you’re vegan or not. [9]

If you fit that high risk population, it is worth to pay special attention to iron in your nutrition and regularly check your iron levels with a doctor.

So here are the 7 healthy, non-fortified, vegan iron rich foods that makes it so easy to hit your daily iron target it *almost* feels like cheating:

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?

The most common symptom for iron deficiency is iron deficiency anemia.

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition where you do not have the right amounts of red blood cells in your body.

This is a huge problem, because you can imagine the red blood cells as delivery trucks that drive through your body. The delivery trucks need to supply any living tissue in your body.

If you have less delivery trucks than you need, not all tissues are adequately supplied. Which can lead to a host of problems, including:

  • Gastrointestinal issues [10]
  • Impaired cognitive function [11]
  • Impaired immune function [12]
  • Fatigue and decreased work performance [13]

It’s important to note that for some of these issues, you do not need to have a severe form of iron deficiency. Even mild and moderate forms may lead to decreases in your health.

3. The Downside Of High Iron Intake

Now, before we all rush to the next pharmacy and stack up of iron supplements for the next few years, it’s important to look at the downside of high iron intake.

Michael Greger M.D., best-selling author and wildly famous nutrition expert, claims that:

“Having lower iron stores is actually advantageous”

I also have a separate, longer video about this issue which is called “Stop Supplementing Iron”. I leave a link to it in the description as well.

To put it quickly:

Having less iron in your body is an adaptation to deal with an infection. You can imagine iron levels as food for bacteria and viruses, and if there’s less food in your body, they will less quickly reproduce.

This is why typically the levels of all cause mortality (which is a fancy word for ‘chances of you dying’) is predictably higher, the more iron you have. [14]

So low to moderate levels of iron in your blood might even be advantageous.

Iron supplementation may mask B12 deficiency

Another reason why iron supplementation might not be the most beneficial thing to do, is that it’s supplementation may mask chronic B12-deficiency.

Non-supplementation of B12 in vegans does lead to a condition called megaloblastic anemia. Which as the name says, also has a lack of red blood cells but different causes.

Iron supplementation might improve the condition slightly, but the underlying issue is still not resolved. Leading to a worsening of the symptoms.

4. 7 Healthy Non-Fortified Plant Based Foods High In Dietary Iron

The best vegan iron sources to guarantee that you’re having enough iron in your nutrition naturally are the following. Here are the The 7 best vegan (non-fortified) iron rich foods that make it so easy to hit your daily iron target it *almost* feels like cheating:

1. Amaranth

One cup of cooked amaranth contains 5.2mg.

If you eat 2 cups of cooked amaranth per day, you already got your required dietary intake. Which is around from 10 to 13mg/day.

2. Lentils, dried peas or beans

Cooked lentils dried peas or beans contain 3.8mg per cup.

If you eat 1 cup of Amaranth and 1 cup of kidney beans per dinner, you already got your iron intake.

3. Tofu

Half a cup of tofu contains 2.9mg.

4. Quinoa

1 cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8mg.

5. Nutritional Yeast

5g of nutritional yeast contains 1.8mg.

6. Rolled Oats

1 cup of rolled oats contain 1.3mg.

7. Almonds

And 20-25 nuts of almonds contain 1.1mg.

Conclusion – How To Get Enough Iron On A Vegan diet

So in regards to iron rich meals, here’s what you’d do to get enough iron on a vegan diet:

  1. You have 1 cup of rolled oats for breakfast, you combine this with 1-2 cups of soy milk.
  2. You have 20-25 almonds later on as a snack.
  3. For lunch, you have 1 cup of quinoa with half a cup of tofu.
  4. For dinner, you have 1 cup of amaranth with with a cup of kidney beans.

This gives you a total non-heme iron intake of 16.1mg. Which is all the iron you need.

Now that we’ve covered health… the next thing you might be interested in is performance. Getting in your best shape on a vegan diet, and being all you can be.

The best next step to get in shape, is to download a free copy of my eBook called ‘The Fit Vegans Secrets’.

the fit vegans secrets ebook

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It allows you to “make the connection” with your health and fitness, similar as you did with veganism, so you finally do what you know that you should do.

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[1] Iron Status of Vegans, Vegetarians and Pescetarians in Norway:

[2] Iron Status of Vegetarian Adults: A Review of Literature:

[3] Iron and vegetarian diets:

[4] Duodenal Absorption and Tissue Utilization of Dietary Heme and Nonheme Iron Differ in Rat:

[5] Phytate in foods and significance for humans: Food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis:

[6] The Efficacy and Safety of Vitamin C for Iron Supplementation in Adult Patients With Iron Deficiency Anemia:

[7] Bioavailability of dietary iron in man:

[8] Does obesity increase risk for iron deficiency? A review of the literature and the potential mechanisms:

[9] Iron bioavailability: UK Food Standards Agency workshop report:

[10] The Relevance of Vitamin and Iron Deficiency in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases in Patients of the Swiss IBD Cohort:

[11] Iron status and neural functioning:

[12] The Role of Iron Regulation in Immunometabolism and Immune-Related Disease:

[13] Iron deficiency and reduced work capacity: a critical review of the research to determine a causal relationship:

[14] Total and cause-specific mortality by moderately and markedly increased ferritin concentrations: general population study and metaanalysis: