Vegetarian and iron

Achieving Adequate Iron-Unfortunately, the body cannot manufacture its own iron and is thus dependent on food intake for an adequate supply.


  • Severe Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue and loss of energy, substantial reduction in work capacity, impaired behavioral and intellectual performance, impaired capacity to maintain body temperature in a cold environment, decreased resistance to infection.
  • Vegetarians are vulnerable as well, because dairy products generally do not provide adequate iron, and the type of iron found in plant foods (nonheme iron) is poorly absorbed by the body.
  • ATHLETES-When an athlete operates without adequate iron, less oxygen is delivered to the muscles, maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) drops, and physical performance suffers.
  • Anemia-The final stage of iron deficiency is anemia, which is defined as a low hemoglobin concentration in the blood.


  • MALE AGE( 19 and above)- 10 mg
  • FEMALE AGE (15 and above)-15mg
  • Pregnant women should get 30 mg of iron
  • lactating women need 15 mg


  • loss of blood from bleeding
  • surgery or injury
  • nutritional deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12 and folate
  • Cancer in the bone marrow,Kidney problems and destruction of red blood cells can also lead to anemia.

BODY IRON STORES-The most significant influence on iron absorption is the amount of iron already stored in your body. The body stores iron in various places, including the liver. If your stores are high, your body absorbs less iron from the foods you eat. Conversely, low iron stores increase your ability to absorb iron.If your energy is good and your hemoglobin and hematocrit are at the low end of normal, that is likely the best place to be.


Heme iron is found in foods that contain hemoglobin; for example, meat, poultry and fish.

Plants and iron-fortified foods contain only non -heme iron.

Heme iron is absorbed better than nonheme iron. Eating heme and nonheme iron together enhances iron absorption.

VEGETARIAN AND IRON SOURCE- As a vegetarian Bioavailability of Iron is less, Keep in mind that the way we combine foods in any given meal can also enhance iron absorption. Here are some smart food-pairing ways that will optimize the iron in your diet. For eg Combining plant nonheme iron sources, such as lentils and green, leafy veggies, with foods that are high in vitamin C, such as orange juice,green peppers increases iron absorption.

plant sources of iron- Rice, grains, iron-enriched pastas, cereals, lima beans, peas, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, broccoli, spinach,methi,kale, turnip greens and collard greens. Beets are very powerful source of iron.Thus, the juice of Red beets and Amla( gooseberry)that is packed with Iron and Vitamin C) strengthen the body’s power to regenerate and re-activate the red blood cells .In most cases, cooking increases the amount of available non-haem iron in vegetables.  

  • For example, the body absorbs six per cent of the iron from raw broccoli, compared to 30 per cent from cooked broccoli.
  • Commonly eaten combinations, such as beans and tomato sauce,chana curry,rajma curry or stir-fried tofu and broccoli, also result in generous levels of iron absorption.

Dietary factors which inhibits iron absorption-

  • There are also several foods and beverages that inhibit iron absorption including coffee, tea, egg yolks.
  • foods high in phytates such as wheat bran,oxalates in spinach.
  • Antacids and over use of calcium supplements also decrease iron absorption.Don’t drink tea and coffee while eating iron-rich foods, with foods, since calcium can also inhibit iron absorption.
Good Sources of Iron in Food
Animal Sources

(heme iron)

Plant Sources

(nonheme iron)

liver iron-enriched breakfast cereal
roast beef, steak nuts(cashews, almonds)
roast lamb sweet corn, potato,beet
eggs lentils, baked beans in sauce, beans
dark-flesh tuna whole-grain foods (oatmeal, sunflower seeds)
lean pork, ham enriched bread, mostly wholemeal
skinless chicken green, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, methi cabbage,radish leaves,green mustard)
white fish dried fruit (prunes, figs,apricots, raisins)
fresh fruit-amla,strawberry
soy (tofu, soybeans, soymilk)


food quantity Iron content
Soybeans,cooked 1 cup 8.8
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 6.6
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 6.4
Tofu 4 ounces 6
Potato 1 large 3.2
Prune juice 8 ounces 3
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 2.8
Beet greens, cooked 1 cup 2.7
Tahini 2 Tbsp 2.7
almonds 1/4 cup 1.3
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 1.2
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 1.1
Dried Apricots 17 halves, uncooked 5.5
Dried Peaches 8 halves 6
Dates 1 cup 5.3
Raisins 1 cup 5
Walnut 0.5 cup 3.2
Peanuts 0.5 cup 3.2

BE SMART-There’s a misconception that vegans & vegetarians are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency than non-vegetarian people, In fact, vegetarians have lots of iron-rich options in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans, grains,pulses and more. Eating a rainbow (colourful)plant based diet not only provide Iron but other antioxidants,fibre and minerals.


Footnote:Sources:Burke & Deakin, 2000; Rockwell & Hinton 2005.

References Burke, L., & Deakin, V. 2000. Clinical Sports Nutrition. Australia: McGraw-Hill. Chatard, J.C., et al. 1999. Anemia and iron deficiency in athletes. Sports Medicine, 27 (4), 229-40. Rockwell, M., & Hinton, P. 2005. Understanding iron. Training & Conditioning, XV (8), 19-25.