Let’s talk about Iron.
When it comes to going plant-based, iron is often a topic of discussion. Anti-vegan crowds can sometimes make you worried that a plant-based diet is incomplete. Iron is often at the top of the list of reasons why you need to eat animals, but what is the truth?
So, what is iron, and why do we need it?
Iron is an essential mineral in our body that helps transport oxygen around the body in our blood and muscle tissues. When iron is insufficient, the body has a hard time producing red blood cells, which can result in anemia.
Before transitioning to a plant-based diet, I was anemic. I would pass out if I gave blood or if I missed a meal. I ate meat once a day and considered myself “healthy.” Since transitioning, I haven’t had any issues with anemia. Interesting, huh?
First, let’s discuss the difference between animal iron (heme) and plant Iron (non- heme). Iron in animals is 40% heme iron, while iron found in plants is 100% non-heme. Why does this matter? Studies have shown that non-heme iron is not as readily absorbed by the body, so plant iron is usually deemed inferior to animal iron.
But… guess what? Veganism is a superpower.
When you only consume plant iron, your body adjusts and increases its uptake to suit its needs. That means that your body actually improves its iron regulation! Plant iron can be absorbed when we need it and down-regulated and not absorbed when our iron stores are high.
Animal Iron is so readily absorbed that it can continue to absorb even when the body doesn’t need it. Too much iron can cause DNA damage! Studies have shown that too much iron is linked to Parkinson’s/Alzheimers, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers. Comparing plant iron intake to animal iron, it becomes glaringly apparent why eating a plant-based diet is so amazing.
One thing that I want to mention to anyone thinking about switching to 100% plant-based is that you do need to eat foods containing iron. It is very easy when you are first starting out to believe that all you have to do is eat fruits and veggies, but there is a little more to it.
Depending on your iron needs, (vegan) women tend to need 32 mg a day of non-heme iron. Pregnant women need about 49mg, while post-menopausal women only need about 15mg.
The best sources of plant iron are:
- pumpkin seeds
- dark leafy greens like broccoli, kale, and spinach
- dried fruits like apricots, peaches, pears, and raisins
Don’t forget to also include foods for your Vitamin C intake, which helps absorb the iron. Eating plenty of foods like bell peppers, oranges, tomatoes, kiwi, strawberries, and pineapple.
A word of caution.
Avoid red wine, tea, coffee, calcium supplements, or super high calcium foods within an hour of eating your plant iron foods. These things can inhibit the absorption of iron in the body. If your levels are fine, however, no need to worry.
In conclusion, a well balanced plant-based diet, in my opinion, is the BEST way to improve your iron levels, not to mention the animals will love you for it. The oldest humans in the world are vegan/vegetarian, which tells us that they are doing something right!