Iron is a mineral that is present in every cell of our bodies. Not only does it assist with healthy hair, skin and nails, it also assists in the transportation of oxygen through our bodies. Iron is a component of hemoglobin, which is contained in red blood cells. Red blood cells transport oxygen through our bodies, enabling us to function. Low levels of iron cause low hemoglobin, which creates fewer red blood cells, resulting in anemia. Anemia symptoms may include feeling dizzy, weak or tired, shortness of breath, headaches, pale skin, or trouble concentrating (source). This is why it is very important to have sufficient iron intake.
Despite the common myth, those who live off of a plant-based diet can get plenty of iron. Below are a few food sources rich in this vital nutrient (source):
- Grains: brown rice, fortified breads and cereals, whole grain bread
- Legumes: adzuki beans, baked beans, black beans, chick peas (garbanzo beans), kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans and pinto beans
- Fruits: dried apricots, avocados, currants, dates, figs, prunes and raisins
- Vegetables: bok choy, broccoli, kale, mung bean sprouts, peas, unpeeled potatoes, savoy cabbage, spinach, turnip greens, tomato juice and watercress
- Soy: milk, tofu, yogurt, etc.
It is important to know, however, that our bodies need to be able to absorb the iron as well. Plant-based iron is absorbed more readily when consumed with Vitamin C. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, binds to the iron in our bodies, creating more stability which in turn makes the iron more soluble (source).
The easiest natural way of getting both iron and Vitamin C is to eat foods that are rich in both nutrients, such as: asparagus, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables (i.e. bok choy and kale), potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon (source). Another option is to simply pair the iron-rich food with a Vitamin C-rich food. Some examples include: having a spinach salad with oranges or citrus dressing, eating oatmeal with fresh mangoes or strawberries, serving your beans with bell peppers and herbs, or enjoying a nice tofu lasagna. Finally, there are always supplements!