It's straight-forward to obtain enough iron when you eat a rainbow of lightly processed vegetables, fruits and other whole-plant foods each day. In fact, research has shown that vegans have average iron intakes that are similar to or higher than those of non-vegans, and higher than the recommended daily allowance.
Your daily iron intake
It's recommended by the UK's Department of Health that adults receive between 8.7mg - 14.8mg a day dependent on factors such as menstruation.The US Recommended Dietary Allowances are similar at 10mg a day for non-menstruating adults; 15mg for adolescents and menstruating adults, and an additional 15mg a day for those who are pregnant.
Sources of iron
Good plant sources of iron include dried fruits, whole grains (including wholemeal bread), nuts, green leafy vegetables, seeds and pulses. Other foods rich in iron but which are usually eaten in smaller amounts include soya, some flours, parsley, watercress, black molasses and edible seaweeds.
Remember your vitamin C
You need to include foods rich in vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron in your meals. Vitamin C is found in colourful fruits and vegetables such as oranges, potatoes, cabbage, green leafy vegetables, blackcurrants, broccoli, mango, kiwis and parsley.
Need some inspiration?
Try the following simple suggestions to help combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C:
- fortified breakfast cereal sprinkled with chopped nuts and fresh blueberries
- lentil and sweet potato soup
- hummus with carrot and celery sticks
- tortilla wraps stuffed with refried beans, red pepper and seseame seeds
- a snack of satsumas eaten with a handful of nuts
- a stir fry of colourful veggies (try yellow pepper, spring greens and broccoli) and cashew nuts sprinkled with sesame seeds
- a rich chickpea and tomato sauce served with brown rice
- wholemeal toast spread with peanut butter and topped with apple slices
- baked potato with beans served with a glass of orange juice.
Avoid tea and coffee
Caffeine and tannins can inhibit the body's absorption of iron so it's best to avoid drinking tea, coffee or cola at meal times. Stick to fruit juice or water instead.
For more information, see our iron leaflet (PDF).