13 Vegetarian Foods That Have More Iron Than Meat

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13 Vegetarian Foods That Have More Iron Than Meat
13 Vegetarian Foods That Have More Iron Than Meat. Graphic © herbshealthhappiness.com. Photo sources – see foot of article

Iron is one of the essential minerals that are critical for many of the body’s functions. Our body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from our lungs to the tissues. Iron also produces another protein called myoglobin which helps supply oxygen to our muscles.

For lifelong vegetarians or those who are transitioning to a non-meat diet, their most common concern is how to maintain iron consumption – because much of the iron in the average diet comes from from pork, beef, and chicken. With the meat out of the equation, is it possible to have non-meat options that offer the same amount of iron or more than meat? Fortunately, there are many delicious options that are both rich in iron and vegetarian-friendly:

1. Tofu

This food is made from soybeans, which, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition are a good source of nutritional iron. [1] Tofu’s iron content remains stable even after heat treatment, according to another study reported by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. [2]

2. Quinoa

This seed contains more iron than common cereals. Roasting quinoa does not affect its mineral content, as found out by a study first reported in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Quinoa is also rich in calcium and zinc. [3]

3. Dark Chocolate

According to a study reported in the journal Nature, dark chocolate is rich in minerals like iron and calcium and offers consumers health benefits that milk chocolate cannot match. Consumption of this food was associated by the study to increased epicatechin content of blood plasma. [4] Epicatechin is a strong antioxidant, which together with iron, promote muscle growth.

4. Dried Fruits

Dried peach halves, prunes, apricot halves, and raisins are somewhat unexpected sources of dietary iron. An article reported in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition showed that dried apricots have the highest iron content among some dried fruit samples from Turkey. [5]

5. Spirulina

This superfood is a type of blue-green algae that is rich in iron, calcium, and magnesium. A study published in Plant Foods and Human Nutrition confirmed the effectiveness of spirulina in improving the iron status of rats during pregnancy and lactation. [6]

6. Legumes

Beans provide essential nutrients for the body including protein and iron. One cup of kidney beans will give you 3.93 mg of iron, according to a database from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. [7]

7. Brussel Sprouts

These veggies are an excellent source of iron as well as antioxidants, vitamins, folate, and fiber. Brussels sprouts are one of the foods recommended by a Spanish study as part of a diet for patients with deficiency anemia. This diet also includes beetroot, asparagus, romaine lettuce, and oranges. [8]

8. Pumpkin Seeds

You can eat pumpkin seeds raw, which provides the most benefit. However, pumpkin seeds also pack an iron punch when roasted for no more than twenty minutes. A study published in the journal BioFactors recommended the consumption of pumpkin seed kernels as sources of dietary iron for women at reproductive ages. [9]

9. Nuts

Which nuts contain the most iron? Cashews are on top, with 8.22 mg, followed by almonds, macadamias, and pistachios. Nuts top the list of foods that have particularly high amounts of iron, according to a report from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. [10]

10. Sugarcane Molasses

This “healthy sugar” contains iron, sulfur, fructose, and copper, making it a potential dietary supplement for iron deficiency anemia, as per a study first published online by the Journal of Dietary Supplements. [11]

11. Sesame Butter / “Tahini”

Also known as tahini, sesame butter is an excellent addition if you are already eating iron-rich fruits and vegetables. Tahini is often associated with hummus which may help improve the nutrient profiles of meals. [12]

12. Tomato Paste

When consumed raw, tomatoes only offer 0.5mg of iron per cup. Dried or concentrated tomatoes offer a greater amount of iron than fresh ones. Tomatoes also provide vitamin C which helps increase iron absorption, based on a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. [13]

13. Potatoes

The iron content of potatoes is mostly concentrated in the skin. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition discovered that there is much greater solubilization of iron from potato than from other foods. The tubers also provide vitamin C which enhances iron absorption. [14]


[1] Murray-Kolb LE et al. January 2003. Women with low iron stores absorb iron from soybeans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12499339

[2] Masuda T. October 14, 2015. Soybean Ferritin Forms an Iron-Containing Oligomer in Tofu Even after Heat Treatment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26390371

[3] Repo-Carrasco-Valencia RA et al. September 2010. Effects of roasting and boiling of quinoa, kiwicha and kañiwa on composition and availability of minerals in vitro. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20582934

[4] Serafini M et al. August 28, 2003. Plasma antioxidants from chocolate. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v424/n6952/full/4241013a.html?foxtrotcallback=true

[5] Duran A et al. November-December 2008. Trace element levels in some dried fruit samples from Turkey. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18991103

[6] Kapoor R and Mehta U. 1998. Supplementary effect of spirulina on hematological status of rats during pregnancy and lactation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10426118

[7] U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4643?fg=&man=&lfacet=&format=Abridged&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=&qlookup=kidney+beans

[8] Santoyo-Sanchez A et al. 2015. Revista Médica del Hospital General de México Dietary recommendations in patients with deficiency anaemia. http://www.elsevier.es/en-revista-revista-medica-del-hospital-general-325-articulo-dietary-recommendations-in-patients-with-S0185106315000463

[9] Naghii MR and Mofid M. 2007. Impact of daily consumption of iron fortified ready-to-eat cereal and pumpkin seed kernels (Cucurbita pepo) on serum iron in adult women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18198398

[10] PubMed Health. March 20, 2014. How can I get enough iron? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072802/

[11] Jain R and Venkatasubramanian. January 6, 2017. Sugarcane Molasses – A Potential Dietary Supplement in the Management of Iron Deficiency Anemia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28125303

[12] Wallace TC et al. December 2016. The Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Chickpeas and Hummus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188421

[13] Stahl W et al. May 2001. Dietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11340098

[14] Fairweather-Tait SJ. July 1983. Studies on the availability of iron in potatoes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6882727

Infographic photo sources:

Tofu – https://pixabay.com/en/slice-the-tofu-cut-a-part-conveyance-597229/
Quinoa – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quinoa-gepufft.jpg
Dark chocolate – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Schokolade-schwarz.jpg
Dried fruits – https://pixabay.com/en/raisins-dried-golden-grapes-fruit-88532/
Spirulina – https://pixabay.com/en/spirulina-alga-vegetable-proteins-1829077/
Legumes – https://pixabay.com/en/chickpeas-grains-eating-2240388/
Brussels sprouts – https://pixabay.com/en/brussels-sprouts-vegetables-463378/
Pumpkin seeds – https://pixabay.com/en/pumpkin-seeds-kernels-green-1489510/
Nuts – https://www.pexels.com/photo/almonds-pistachios-cashews-dried-nuts-86649/
Sugarcane molasses – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackstrapmolasses.JPG
Sesame butter – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sesame-butter.jpg
Tomato paste – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tomato_passata.jpg
Potatoes – https://pixabay.com/en/potatoes-vegetables-erdfrucht-bio-1585075/

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