I often get asked how do we get enough iron?.
Patients have been told and read that if they do not have enough variety in their diet or if their children are not eating a balanced (meat centric) diet they will not get enough iron and become anemic..
Is this fact or more marketing and tradition ?
It is confusing that the same physicians who are recommending you diet, eat healthier, exercise to lower your cholesterol and improve your health , also recommend meat as the only source to get your iron.
What is the best way to get your iron ?
“Best” meaning healthiest with foods that add to your health at the same time . Not merely treating with iron but recommending foods that will have a positive impact on your overall health; perhaps even improving your underlying condition which caused the anemia in the first place with optimal nutrition.
MAIN POINTS :
You can get as much iron from non meat sources as you can from meat.
Iron is in most foods including plant based foods in adequate amount to get your requirements except for the most medically necessary anemia conditions ( please check with your physician if this is the case)
Top plant foods for iron per serving
Fortified cereal 18 mg
pumpkin seeds 4.2 mg
dark chocolate 7 mg
soy beans, 8.8 mg
tofu, tempeh 3 mg
black beans 3.6 mg
quinoa 2.8 mg
Compared to a
hamburger lean- 2.2 mg
See extended iron list below
Why do people say meat is the best source for iron?
This comes from the fact that the iron (heme iron) in meat is more readily absorbed from your gastrointestinal system than plant food iron, which is non heme. But that does not make it better or necessary for meat to be your absolute source of nutrition for iron
Plant foods have plenty of iron in them to maintain and establish iron supply for your blood cells to carry oxygen ( some say not to replenish low iron stores – but with nutritionally sound diet you can)
The non-heme iron in plants is the same quality iron as any other source . There is no difference in quality or types of iron once your body absorbs it from your diet or supplements. It is strictly a quantity issue.
You do need to almost double the amount of iron requirement listed in a plant diet. This means you have to eat twice as much as the number listed of iron for a regular diet in the quantity of food to get the absorption as meat. See the chart below where I already calculated the amount of iron to ingest if you are vegan or from strictly plant food sources.This should in reality be easy since plant foods are usually eaten in bulkier quantities combined with several different types – greens, seed, nuts, soy products, etc.
Healthier source for iron – most people will admit that nutrition derived from a plant source is much healthier than meat. Usually the argument revolves around their contention that meat has a better iron content and protein. But that is not accurate as you can see from the chart below and a previous post on protein sources. Healthy plant based foods such as seeds , nuts, dark green vegetables, will add to your health with the fiber, anti inflammatory properties. , and anti-oxidants. People who depend in large part on plant based diet generally have larger portions of plants and more balanced whole meals of grains, seeds, beans , and greens. So in reality it should not be a problem. Scroll down below to see some examples of iron content in various foods and the amount you need to eat to be certain you get and give enough.
Iron absorption from plant sources is enhanced if you eat vitamin c abundant foods along with your meals , which if you are already primarily vegetarian you probably are already eating. Not just citrus foods, but most vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamin c, including dark fruits and dark green veggies.
Vegetarians and vegans do not have more anemia or poor iron intake than people who eat meat.
Milk and dairy products may interfere with iron absorption
As with all other posts regarding healthier non medical nutritional means to improving your health and medical conditions please check with your physician first before undertaking a non medical approach. Also not all conditions are stable enough to solely rely on nutritional methods of therapy. Anemia can be a serious medical condition and be a result from complicated conditions. Please consult medical experts first. Adding plant based healthy means to improving your health is always advisable but make sure you are stable enough to rely on that in lieu of your doctor’s advice.
The table below lists the daily requirement of iron in foods per age to get the necessary absorbed requirement of iron. The number is higher for plant foods because the non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed as heme iron from meats. For vegans the amount calculated to ingest is almost double so the necessary iron will be absorbed
|Birth to 6 months assuming breastfeeding requires more for formula||0.27 mg*||0.27 mg*|
|7–12 months||11 mg||11 mg||19.8 mg|
|1–3 years||7 mg||7 mg||12.6 mg|
|4–8 years||10 mg||10 mg||18 mg|
|9–13 years||8 mg||8 mg||14.4 mg|
|14–18 years||11 mg||15 mg||19.8mg (m)/27 mg( f)||27 mg/48,6 vegan|
|19–50 years||8 mg||18 mg||14 mg( m)/32 (f)||27 mg/48,6 vegan|
|51+ years||8 mg||8 mg||14.4 mg|
* Adequate Intake (AI)
|Percent DV* for regular diet|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for iron, 1 serving||18||100|
|Pumpkin seeds 1 oz||4.2 mg||23|
|White beans, canned, 1 cup||8||44|
|Chocolate, dark 70% cacao or more, 3 ounces||7||39|
|Beef lean sirloin or hamburger, 3 ounces||2.2||18|
|Lentils, boiled and drained, ½ cup||3||17|
|*Spinach, boiled and drained, ½ cup is not as well absorbed||3||17|
|Tofu, firm, ½ cup||3||17|
|Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup||2||11|
|Chickpeas, boiled and drained, ½ cup||2||11|
|Tomatoes, canned, stewed, ½ cup||2||11|
|Steak NY strip 3oz||1.6||9|
|Potato, baked, flesh and skin, 1 medium potato||2||11|
|Cashew nuts, oil roasted, 1 ounce (18 nuts)||2||11|
|Green peas, boiled, ½ cup||1||6|
|Chicken, roasted, meat and skin, 3 ounces||1||6|
|Rice, white, long grain, enriched, parboiled, drained, ½ cup||1||6|
|Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice||1||6|
|Bread, white, 1 slice||1||6|
|Raisins, seedless, ¼ cup||1||6|
|Spaghetti, whole wheat, cooked, 1 cup||1||6|
|Tuna, light, canned in water, 3 ounces||1||6|
|Turkey, roasted, breast meat and skin, 3 ounces||1||6|
|almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce (49 nuts)||1.3||6|
|Broccoli, boiled and drained, ½ cup||1||6|
|Egg, hard boiled, 1 large||1||6|
|Rice, brown, long or medium grain, cooked, 1 cup||1||6|
|Cheese, cheddar, 1.5 ounces||0||0|
|Kale 1 cup||1.2||6|
|Soybeans 1 cup cooked||8.8||48|
|Black beans 1 cup||3.6||20|
|Milk, 1 cup||0||0|
* DV = Daily Value. DVs were developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of products within the context of a total diet. The DV for iron is 18 mg for adults and children age 4 and older. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Nutrient Database W
Several food sources of iron are listed in Table 2. Some plant-based foods that are good sources of iron, such as spinach, have low iron bioavailability because they contain iron-absorption inhibitors, such as polyphenols [15,16].
Salad with spinach , kale , soybeans, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, tahini dressing , quinoa half cup=3, 2,1,2,4,2.4.4,2.7 for total of iron of almost 19 mg for the average sized salad or almost 70% of the 27 mg vegan requirement of iron in one salad, Add tofu or any other grain or vegetable and you probably have reached your daily requirements
Add any source of meat protein in the suggested minimal amount of 2-3oz 3 x a week them you are getting more than enough iron with a healthier nutritional profile
Add dark chocolate for dessert and you have your daily allowance of iron
Please consult your physician before starting any non medical treatment with nutritional sources. Not all conditions will respond to holistic or dietary or supplement for that matter adjustment.
Iron supplements are not recommended unless you are anemic or have a diet with insufficient in iron.
As with all supplements iron supplements are not regulated and the actual content can vary.
Absorption of iron from supplements can also vary so please check with your physician before taking any supplements.
Environment: The processing of supplements and disposal has a greater environmental impact as does meat based iron sources than natural organic plant food sources. Getting your iron from optimal nutrition both improves your overall health and that of the environment.
Warren Krantz MD. FAAP