10 high iron vegetables for vegetarians and vegans

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Meat and other animal products are rich sources of iron, which sparks concerns about iron deficiency in people following vegetarian and vegan diets. However, there are several suitable sources of iron for these individuals. Heme iron, which is more abundant in animal products, is easier for the body to absorb. […]

Meat and other animal products are rich sources of iron, which sparks concerns about iron deficiency in people following vegetarian and vegan diets. However, there are several suitable sources of iron for these individuals.

Heme iron, which is more abundant in animal products, is easier for the body to absorb. However, people who follow plant-based diets are no more likely than others to experience iron deficiency, providing they eat a wide variety of foods. However, it is important to note that they may experience iron deficiencies if they are not careful in what they eat.

Keep reading to learn more about 10 vegetables that vegetarians and vegans can eat to meet their iron needs, as well as more information on why iron is important.

A person’s daily iron needs vary with age, health, and whether they are pregnant or lactating. Adult males aged 19–50 years need 8 milligrams (mg) a day, while females need 18 mg. After the age of 50, most adults require 8 mg of the substance. During pregnancy, a person’s iron needs increase to 27 mg daily.

Some vegetables that are high in iron include the below.

Chanterelle mushrooms

This fungal delicacy can be expensive as a main course but can serve as a garnish for salads, sandwiches, and other meals for a more affordable price. It offers 6.94 mg of iron per 200 gram (g) serving.

Black salsify

This thin, green root vegetable is one of the most suitable vegetarian sources of protein. Some people also call it the black oyster plant, serpent root, viper’s herb, or viper’s grass. Individuals can steam 250 g of black salsify to receive 5.5 mg of iron.

Spinach

Richer in vital nutrients than more water-dense lettuces, such as romaine, spinach is a suitable choice for salads. It offers 4 mg of iron per 150 g serving. Try mixing it with other leafy greens to boost the iron content of a salad even higher.

Swiss chard

This bright, rainbow-hued vegetable makes it suitable for salads. Try mixing it with spinach for a lunch rich in iron, or steam and season it on its own for a quick snack. Cooked Swiss chard offers 3.4 mg of iron per 150 g serving.

Cooked beet greens

A person can eat beet greens as a snack or use them to replace other lettuces in a salad. A 100 g serving offers 1.9 mg of iron.

Canned tomatoes

Add canned tomatoes to a salad for some acidic flavor and an iron boost, or try them on a sandwich. They contain 1.57 mg of iron per serving of half a cup.

Lamb’s lettuce

People can include this uniquely shaped lettuce in salads. Some also like to steam it and eat it on its own. It contains 2 mg of iron per 100 g serving.

Green cabbage

Most people serve green cabbage as a side dish. Try it in a casserole for some extra crunch and added iron — it contains 0.94 mg of iron per 200 g serving.

Brussels sprouts

Many people eat Brussels sprouts salted, while others enjoy them cooked with garlic in an air fryer or shredded and raw as part of a salad. After steaming, they offer 2.13 mg of iron per 150 g.

Boiled green peas

Boiled green peas contain 2.46 mg of iron per cup. They make a suitable snack and also pair well with other vegetables. Peas can also add extra texture to an iron-rich salad with Swiss chard and spinach.

Iron is vital for health because the body needs it to produce hemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells transport oxygen. Some of its roles include:

  • supporting muscle metabolism
  • supporting the development of connective tissue such as blood and cartilage
  • supporting brain development
  • helping the body synthesize hormones
  • maintaining proper functioning of the body’s cells

A person not getting enough iron may lead to them experiencing iron deficiency. With this condition, an individual may not have any initial symptoms, but as it progresses, they may develop iron deficiency anemia, which can involve the following symptoms:

  • low energy
  • feeling easily out of breath
  • chest pain
  • cold hands and feet
  • depression
  • irregular heart rate

In severe cases, iron deficiency can become life threatening. People deficient in iron typically have longer hospital stays, worse outcomes when they get sick, a higher risk of heart health issues, and a higher overall risk of dying.

Pregnant people with iron deficiency have a higher risk of negative outcomes such as preterm labor or having a baby with low birth weight. In children, iron deficiency can lead to neurological problems and developmental delays.

While diet plays a role in iron deficiency, it is not the only factor. A person’s risk of the condition depends on their age, health, and other factors. Bleeding is also a major risk factor, such as gastrointestinal bleeding from an ulcer or another digestive issue. Menstruation in females of reproductive age can also contribute to iron deficiency.

This is why it is crucial for doctors to assess potential causes of iron deficiency and not just treat the symptoms. Sometimes, iron deficiency is the first symptom of serious bleeding or ulcers. The condition can also appear in people with certain rare genetic disorders, end stage kidney failure, or congestive heart failure.

Individuals may also have a higher risk of iron deficiency after:

  • major surgery
  • serious injury
  • giving birth
  • a hemorrhage

Lead exposure in children can also lead to iron deficiency. Parents whose children are iron deficient should discuss lead exposure testing with a doctor.

Learn more about the health benefits and recommended daily intakes of iron here.

Spinach, Swiss chard, and lamb’s lettuce are some vegetables that contain high amounts of iron.

Iron deficiency is common across many people, with females of childbearing age having the highest prevalence rate, followed by 9% of young children aged 12–36 months.

People with the condition may need to take supplements to restore iron levels to optimal levels. In severe cases, they might need an infusion of iron or blood transfusion.

If a person does not get enough iron, believes they may be iron deficient, or has a history of iron deficiency, they should talk to a doctor about strategies for addressing the problem.

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