10 Plant-Based Sources of Iron

If you have adopted a plant-based or vegan diet I’m sure you have heard these questions. 

“Where do you get your protein?”

“Aren’t you worried you’ll have low iron?”

“How do you know you’re eating enough?”

In the beginning I felt very offended when people would ask these questions. 

I felt as though people were judging me. (and they might have been)

I felt that they didn’t trust that I knew what I was doing. (and why did I care?)

I felt as though they believed they were better than me for some reason. (again, who cares, right?)

After years of these questions I realized the truth. 

They just didn’t know. 

Sure, some people probably came at it with a hidden agenda. Maybe to make me feel bad or imply that their way of living was the better way. But most of the time people simply don’t know how else to react so they ask a question. 

For those who are not vegan but learn of a friend or family members new adventure into veganism, here is a better way to respond to the news:

“Wow! That’s great. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions? I don’t know many people who are vegan.” OR “Oh that’s cool. I would love to see some of the recipes you like!”

Obviously you want to respond in a genuine manner so do so accordingly. 😉 

But I digress – back to the point of this post. 

Many of these common questions are valid and are things we, as vegans, SHOULD be considering. 

Where DO we get our protein from? 

I did a post about this a while back and I encourage you to look at if this is a common question you are asking yourself.

If you don’t know of good plant-based protein sources, you’ll want to check out this list.  It will help you to answer confidently.

What are good plant based sources of iron? 

That is what I want to talk about in this post (woohoo!) but before we do that let’s get a little more information about iron. So… what exactly IS iron?


WHAT IS IRON?

“Iron is a mineral, and its main purpose is to carry oxygen in the hemoglobin of red blood cells throughout the body so cells can produce energy.” (source)

Learn more about iron from NIH

In other words, iron builds up our blood cells which inevitably keeps us alive. IE: iron = important.


WHERE DOES IRON COME FROM?

Iron comes in two forms; heme and non-heme.  Heme iron comes from animal protein sources whereas non-heme comes from plant sources. 

To remember this think “heme = hemoglobin = blood” so non-heme = not blood. Does that help? 

In this post we will be talking about non-heme iron sources, aka plant based sources.


HOW MUCH IRON DO I NEED?

According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (source) the recommended intake for adult females between the ages of 19-50 is 18mg per day for nonvegetarians. (IE people who DO eat meat).  Males within this age range are recommended to consume 8mg. 

In this article it is advises that those who do NOT eat animal products consume 1.8 times the amount listed. 

*Note: women within this age range are typically at the age of menstruation which is why the number is higher than our male counterparts.

easy PLANT-BASED SOURCES OF IRON

When deciding what iron sources are best, figure out which ones can most naturally fit into your daily routine.

For example, my kids LOVE oatmeal so instead of forcing them to eat something else like spinach (although we do incorporate that into our diets as well!) offering them oatmeal in different ways is a great option.

1. Oatmeal

berries, strawberries, bowl

1 cup of cooked oatmeal contains 4mg of iron.

Oatmeal is a great filling breakfast option for those on a whole foods based diet.

Oatmeal contains 12g of protein per 1 cup.


2. Tofu

½ cup of tofu contains approximately 6.2mg of iron.

Tofu is a great source of protein and has been proven beneficial for many with serious diseases. Check out NutritionFacts.org for more details on those studies.

RELATED: 19 Best Plant-Based Protein Sources


3. Spinach

⅔ cup of spinach contains approximately 2.7mg of iron. (source)

Spinach also contains 2.86g of protein and 2.2g of fiber in ⅔ cup.

Adding spinach is a great way to get important vitamins and minerals in any diet but often become a staple in a plant based diet.


4. Red Kidney Beans (and other legumes)

1 cup of red kidney beans contains approximately 4mg of iron.

If you are someone who enjoys chili, I’m sure consuming at least half your daily amount of iron is done through that one meal!

There are many other great things about beans like their protein content as well as potassium and fiber.

Beans are a huge staple in our plant based diet because they are a great nutrient dense calorie source and come in such a huge variety!


5. Dark Chocolate

cooking chocolate, food, chocolate

1oz of dark chocolate contains approximately 2.3mg of iron which basically makes this the BEST option on the list. No?

If you love chocolate like I do, you can happily remind yourself that 1oz of your favorite dark chocolate bar is helping you with this essential nutrient.

Other perks of dark chocolate; high quality dark chocolate has great fiber content AND is a powerful source of antioxidants.

Related: What Chocolate Can Vegans Eat?


6. Quinoa

1 cup of quinoa contains approximately 6.3mg of iron.

Quinoa is by far my favorite “grain” choice on the market. It is packed with protein, fiber, and is low in calorie compared to our pasta or rice counterparts.

We use quinoa on it’s own, as a rice substitute, in tacos, on nachos, in chili - we basically add it wherever we can!

RELATED: How To Use Quinoa: Nutrition Facts & More


7. Peanuts

1 cup of peanuts contains about 6.7mg of iron.

On top of iron, peanuts are a great source of healthy fats and plant based protein.

And no, you don’t have to eat them raw - peanut butter works just as well!

Lastly, compared to other nuts like cashews or almonds, peanuts are a cheap option so definitely something worth working into your treat rotation.


8. Pistachios

1 cup of pistachios contains about 4.8mg of iron.

Do you know what else pistachios have?

  • 6g of protein per 1/2 cup (as much as an egg!)
  • 3g of fiber per 1/2 cup
  • melatonin (!) which makes them a great, healthy bedtime snack (source)

My boys love pistachios so we often offer them as a treat before bed. Does it help them sleep? Not sure, but that’s okay since there are so many other health benefits to pistachios!

PS: If you’ve never had salt & pepper pistachios…oh my goodness. They are addicting. Even more so than the normal ones.


9. Hemp hearts

3 tbsp of hemp hearts contain 4mg of iron.

Hemp hearts are an incredible little seed that come jam packed with protein and omega 3 fatty acids.

They beat out our friends (chia and flax) for nutrition benefits and are so versatile.

RELATED: How To Use Chia Seeds


10. Fortified Cereals

Many fortified cereals contain 90-100% of DV for iron!

Fortified ceraels are a great options for little kids because it is typically something they enjoy plus it contains important vitamins!

Quaker Oatmeal Squares, one of our favorite cereals, contains 16.3mg iron.

Many other vegan friendly cereals are also fortified with iron making them an easy choice for kids and adults alike.

SHOULD I SUPPLEMENT MY IRON ON A PLANT BASED DIET?

Although not all people who are plant-based or vegan struggle with iron intake, it can be beneficial for those who do not consume animal products to take an iron supplement to help avoid anemia and other issues with deficiency. 

Consuming enough foods high in iron can be simple, however, non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body making it not as reliable as heme iron or animal sourced iron. 

If you are trying to stick with whole plant food sources for your iron intake, it has been shown that consuming vitamin C rich foods WITH your iron can increase absorption. 

If you are new to following a plant-based or vegan diet, please speak with your doctor and have blood work done. 

I do believe that people can be healthy on a plant-based diet but it is important to have a baseline of blood work to ensure that you are staying within healthy ranges. 

This is especially important if you plan to become pregnant or are currently pregnant. 

*I am not a doctor and nothing stated in this post is medical advice. Always consult your doctor with dietary changes, if you have concerns in your health, or if you have questions. 

PLANT BASED RECIPES CONTAINING IRON RICH FOODS

Now here is the fun part.  You may already be eating recipes that are containing iron rich foods so YAY if that’s you.  If you are sure, consider adding some of these to your recipe rotation. 

As a word of encouragement don’t always feel like you have to make an elaborate meal especially for your kiddos. If you kids like canned beans (kidney or chickpeas for example) just let them have that!

My toddler loves chickpeas straight from the can. I usually add a little iodine salt and bam - I feel totally confident with that snack or meal choice on a lazy day!

Which of these iron sources do you already eat regularly? Any you want to try more of?


More from Realistic Plant-Based Mama:

Vegan Grocery Staples During Quarantine

6 Foods to Help You Transition to a Plant-Based Diet

5 Foods To Help Your Kids Go Plant-Based




3 thoughts on “10 Plant-Based Sources of Iron”

  1. This is a great resource–nicely done! Whether a person is vegan or not, knowing how to work in plant-based sources of iron is helpful information. AND! You hit the nail on the head by mentioning vitamin C containing foods being important for enhancing plant-based iron absorption. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I give this article two thumbs up!

  2. Pingback: 5 Tips and Tools For Transitioning Family to a Plant-Based Diet

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