Living a vegan lifestyle can have some excellent health and environmental benefits if done correctly. However, one challenge that many vegans face is a lack of energy and vitality that can sometimes come as a result of depleted iron levels. Iron is the mineral that your body requires to produce red blood cells, which in turn carry oxygen and other essential nutrients throughout the body, in addition to maintaining healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails. Insufficient iron levels can cause problems such as shortness of breath, elevated heartbeat, fragile nails and hair, a sore tongue, and even cravings for unique substances such as dirt or clay. Iron is a nutrient that is found primarily in animal products; therefore many people who chose the vegan life often experience a sudden decrease in their iron levels upon making the switch.
There are several vegan food sources that contain iron, however, in most cases, the levels of iron in these foods are substantially lower than those found in animal products and therefore, trying to satisfy an individual's recommended dietary intake on a vegan diet can sometimes prove difficult.
So what are best sources of iron for those who choose to live the "friends not food" way of life?
Daily Iron Intake
The UK's Department of Health recommends that adults receive anywhere between 8.7 mg - 14.8 mg of iron each day, dependent upon a variety of factors such as menstruation and body size/type. The US Recommended Dietary Allowances fall within a similar range at 10 mg a day for non-menstruating adults; 15mg for teenagers and menstruating adults, and an additional 15mg a day for women who are pregnant.
Natural Sources of Iron
Some great natural plant sources of iron include dried fruits, whole grains (including wholemeal bread), most nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, potatoes and seeds. Some other foods that are rich in iron but are generally eaten in smaller quantities include soy products, some flours, parsley, watercress, dark chocolate, black molasses and edible sea vegetables.
Remember Vitamin C
Vitamin C is essential to iron's bio-availability, meaning that you need to include foods that are high in vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron content of your food. Vitamin C is found in colorful fruits and vegetables such as oranges, lemons, berries, cabbage, green vegetables, blackcurrants, broccoli, kiwis and parsley.
Caffeine and tannins can severely inhibit your body's absorption of iron, so it's highly recommended that you avoid drinking tea, coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks, particularly at meal times. Stick to healthy juices or water!
The Supplement Option
Iron is one of the most widespread nutrient deficiencies in the United States. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), an estimated 10% of women are deficient in iron. Many people turn to supplements when looking to boost their iron levels and this option is particularly attractive for vegans - especially when the primary alternative is a medium-rare rib fillet.
Choosing high-quality supplements can be a tricky business but we've pulled together a few of the best options for you to sink your teeth into.
- Gentle Iron Vegetable Capsules by Solgar
Solgar’s vegan-friendly "vegiecaps" contain 25mg of iron per capsule and are free of sugar, salt, corn, yeast, wheat, soy, dairy, preservatives, and artificial flavors! The formula uses a belly-friendly form of iron, iron bisglycinate, which is a unique kind of chelated iron that achieves maximum absorption without inducing stomach issues or constipation.
This product has amazing reviews, with customers reporting dramatic improvements in iron levels after a short time taking the Gentle Iron supplement.
- Vitamin Code Iron by Garden Of Life
Garden of Life is a well-regarded company that specializes in raw and vegan products. Their "Vitamin Code Iron" supplement presents a raw probiotic and enzyme blend, together with a combination of raw organic fruit and vegetables for extra nutritional support.
In addition to being an exceptional source of dietary iron, with 22 mg of whole food iron per capsule, the Garden of Life supplement also contains Vitamin C, B12, and folate which assist in maximizing iron absorption.
This product is completely raw, non-GMO, and gluten free.
- Vegan Iron by VegLife
Each bottle of VegLife's vegan iron supplements contains 100 coated tablets, each with 25mg of high-quality iron, as well as vitamin C, folic acid, and vitamin B12 to help boost the bioavailability.
This supplement utilizes a vegetable base made from vegetable cellulose and a blend of carrot, broccoli, and tomato concentrates.
The tablets are quite small, which is a huge plus for those who have trouble swallowing larger supplement capsules.
Choosing iron supplements can be confusing at times, but as long as you read the ingredients thoroughly and do some background research on the company that produces them, they are a great way to keep your iron levels up and maintain an overall level of good health!