What should a vegetarian know about iron?

So, iron is a component of hemoglobin – a protein of erythrocytes (red blood cells). Their main function is to bind oxygen in the lungs and transport it to the tissues, taking carbon dioxide from there and bringing it back to the lungs. And the less erythrocytes are saturated with hemoglobin, the less resources they have for oxygen transfer. Organs, cells, tissues do not receive oxygen and oxygen starvation occurs, which is fraught with unpleasant consequences.

As you can see, the importance of iron cannot be overestimated: this element is involved in metabolism, DNA production, hematopoiesis, the synthesis of thyroid hormones, maintaining the immune system, and even contributes to a good mood. From the point of view of Ayurveda, by the way, a lack of iron in the body is always accompanied by depression, and it is treated (in addition to herbal supplements) with positive emotions. There is, of course, some truth in this.      

A little about numbers. The average daily iron intake for men is about 10 mg, for women – 15-20 mg, because in a month the female body loses 2 times more of this substance than the male body. During pregnancy, the female body’s need for iron can increase to 27 mg per day.

Iron deficiency anemia develops when the iron content in the blood is below 18 mg and the hemoglobin level is lower than 120 g/l. If you periodically take a blood test, you can keep this issue under control and, if necessary, take appropriate measures in time. However, there are common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia that may indicate the presence of the disease. These include: pallor of the skin, brittle hair and nails, fatigue, apathy, general fatigue and rapid breathing even with mild physical exertion, changes in taste, chilliness, disruption of the digestive tract. As you probably noticed, all these symptoms are very clear evidence that the tissues are not getting enough oxygen. If you find at least some of these symptoms, it will not be superfluous to take a complete blood count.

It is important to pay attention to the fact that iron is heme and non-heme. Almost 65% of the iron found in meat is heme, and it is quite easily absorbed by the body. However, meat products are known to oxidize the body as a whole, which means that they are a factor that provokes the growth and development of tumors, the occurrence of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and other chronic and inflammatory diseases. Vegetable products, in turn, on the contrary, alkalize the body. So, from them, in addition to such an important element as iron, we will get a lot of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, which, on the contrary, start the process of cleansing and detoxifying the body, relieve inflammation and strengthen the immune and other systems of the body. However, there is one point that is worth paying attention to. In plant foods, iron is non-heme, i.e. for full assimilation by the human body, it must be freed from other elements with the help of gastric enzymes. 

For better absorption of iron from plant foods, there are a few tricky tricks:

Regularly consume vitamin C along with foods containing iron. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, chard, Brussels sprouts, etc.), bell peppers (yellow, red and green), cauliflower, cocoa beans, rose hips, lemon and berries. superfoods (goji, camu camu, gooseberries and mulberries, cranberries, lingonberries, chokeberries, black, red and white currants)

The absorption of iron improves when combined with the amino acid lysine, which is found in large quantities in legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas and other varieties)

Do not take calcium with iron-containing products and do not drink them with tea (green and black) and coffee. Coffee and tea contain tannins, which are known to reduce iron absorption. The same goes for calcium.

So what plant foods are high in iron?

· Soya beans

hemp seeds

· Pumpkin seeds

· Nut

· Lentils

· Quinoa

· Cashew

Leafy greens, incl. spinach

· Peanuts and peanut butter

· Dried apricots

· Oatmeal

· Rye bread

dried mushrooms


· Chia seeds

· Raisin

· Apples

· Sesame

· Prunes

cocoa beans

· Figs

Green buckwheat

· Spirulina

· Grenades

If your daily diet contains legumes and at least a couple of products from the above list, there is nothing to worry about. And if you have also learned how to combine them with foods rich in vitamin C, then iron deficiency certainly does not threaten you. But if you’re looking to increase your iron intake, try following a special “iron” menu and see the results.

An example of an “iron” menu:

Breakfast. Oatmeal with dried apricots, chia seeds and goji berries or gooseberries

Snack. Almond, Prune and Cranberry Energy Bar or Whole Pomegranate

Dinner. Lentil soup with fresh cabbage salad

Afternoon snack. A handful of pumpkin seeds or cashew nuts

Dinner. Buckwheat with chickpeas and fresh bell pepper salad.

Cocoa, rose hips, cranberry and currant infusion, water with lemon, pomegranate juice are perfect as drinks for an “iron” diet.

Separately, it is worth talking about chlorophyll. As you know, chlorophyll is a green pigment that plants produce in the light through photosynthesis. Its structure is identical to the structure of hemoglobin, only the protein in chlorophyll is formed not around an iron molecule, but around a magnesium molecule. Chlorophyll is also called the “blood of green plants”, and it is an excellent assistant in maintaining hemoglobin levels and the function of hematopoiesis in general. It is sold in liquid form in domestic and foreign online stores, and is usually produced from alfalfa sprouts. Of course, if you have access to high-quality and fresh greens all year round, there is no need for such a supplement. But in conditions of cold and harsh winters, when we often see far from organic greens on the shelves, this is a very good help for our body, and not only in order to prevent iron deficiency anemia.

If, according to the results of the analysis, you have revealed a low level of hemoglobin in the blood, you should not immediately start eating meat. As well as those who eat it anyway, you should not eat it anymore. It is enough to revise the diet to add more plant foods containing iron. However, if the hemoglobin content in the blood is low enough to get a quick result, you can start drinking complex vitamin supplements. And be sure to include long walks in the fresh air and activities that bring you pleasure in your iron deficiency program!


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