Dispelling a myth: Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike are often looking for ways to increase their iron levels. Many pregnant women (maybe as many as 85%) struggle with low iron or anemia, as well. I have heard it said that it is hard to get enough iron when eating a vegetarian diet because the plant form of iron (non-heme) is not as readily absorbed as iron from animal foods (heme). That is only half true: non-heme iron is less available to our bodies, however, it is quite possible to get enough iron despite that.
Here are 18 ways to increase your intake of iron:
- Açaí: Add frozen açaí puree to a smoothie or make an açaí bowl.
- Blackstrap molasses: Add molasses to baked good, hot cereal, or pancakes and waffles. When I was a kid, we used to drink molasses mixed with warm milk. I have been on a chai tea kick lately and I think it might be good there as well.
- Cast iron: Cooking with cast iron pans, especially for acidic foods like tomatoes sauces, increases the iron content of those foods.
- Edamame (soybeans): Enjoy edamame (soybeans) as a snack or added to salads.
- Fortified foods: Look for cereals, pastas, and bread products that have been iron-fortified.
- Hemp seeds: Add 1-2 Tbsp hemp seeds to your breakfast cereal (hot or cold), rice or other grain, or salad.
- Lentils or beans: Add cooked lentils or beans to salads, soups, and pasta dishes.
- Nuts: Add nuts to baked goods, cereals, or salads or enjoy them as a snack.
- Oatmeal: Have oatmeal or oat bran hot cereal for breakfast. Serve with strawberries or orange juice for extra vitamin C.
- Pumpkin seeds: Add raw pumpkin seeds to salads, baked goods, and smoothies.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is a quick-cooking and super nutritious grain. Use in place of rice, add to salads, or serve soup over quinoa for a hearty meal.
- Raisins and dried fruit: Add raisins and/or other dried fruit to cereal, rice and grain dishes, and baked goods.
- Sesame seeds: Add sesame seeds to salads, cereals, hummus, grain dishes, baked goods, and stir fries.
- Spinach: Add fresh spinach to a smoothie, saute it with garlic, or add to pasta dishes or soups.
- Split peas: Enjoy split pea soup served over quinoa with some fortified whole grain bread.
- Tofu: Make a tofu stir fry with broccoli. The vitamin C from the broccoli with aid in iron absorption.
- Vegetables: Many veggies are good sources of iron. Enjoy a wide variety veggies each day.
- Wheat germ: Add wheat germ to baked goods, smoothies, or hot cereal.
Tip: Eat iron-rich foods with foods that contain vitamin C to increase iron absorption. Avoid eating iron-rich foods with coffee, tea, or calcium-rich foods as those things may inhibit absorption.
From my experience: Even though I do not eat any meat, I am able to maintain normal iron levels (even when I was pregnant) by ensuring that I eat a variety of iron-rich foods every day. Both of my children are vegetarian and have normal iron levels as well.