How to Get Iron on a Vegan Diet, Plus 13 Sources

Whether you’re considering eating less meat or have been plant-based for a while, iron is something that should be on your radar. As with most nutrients, iron multitasks. It’s vital for ensuring your red blood cells can carry oxygen, and if you don’t get enough you can feel fatigued and unfocused, and you might even get sick more often than you’d like. We often think of meat when we think of iron, but in reality, there are many vegan sources of iron that you can use to supplement your diet.


What does iron do for the body?

Iron is an important mineral that your body needs to carry out many important functions.

Without iron, your body would not be able to make hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. It is also needed for myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to muscles. Iron also supports immune function, a healthy pregnancy, energy levels, and athletic performance.

If you get too little iron, your body will first deplete the iron that is stored in your liver, bone marrow, spleen, and muscles. In the long run, it could lead to iron deficiency anemia, which is when red blood cells shrink and can’t carry as much oxygen. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, weakness, blurred memory, and gastrointestinal upset. It could also make you feel like you need to wrap up warmer in the winter.

“Your immune system may also be affected and you may be more prone to colds and other infections. It may be more sensitive to cold temperatures,” Annelie Vogt von Heselholt, DCN, RD, CSO and founder of Dietitian Doc tells VegNews.

There are two types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Both types of iron are found in meat and seafood, while nonheme iron is obtained from plant sources. This means that you absolutely can get iron from plant foods, but one thing to keep in mind is that non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body, so it is recommended that vegans and vegetarians consume twice as much.

So instead of 8 mg for adult men and 18 mg for adult women, someone who doesn’t eat meat is looking for a daily requirement of 16 mg and 36 mg a day, respectively. During pregnancy, that need rises to 27 mg daily.

“Also, non-heme iron is better absorbed if eaten with foods rich in vitamin C,” says Vogt von Heselholt. “Therefore, citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli should be eaten alongside plant-based iron foods.”

If you can, avoid drinking caffeinated coffee or tea with iron-rich foods. Tea is a known inhibitor of iron absorption, and studies suggest a similar case with coffee.

“Lastly, using a cast iron skillet for cooking can provide some additional iron to the skillet,” adds Vogt von Heselholt. It sounds like a myth, but the evidence says otherwise. Research shows that cooking with a cast iron skillet can increase hemoglobin levels in the blood and increase the iron content of foods.

Can you get iron without meat?

Iron is usually associated with meat and seafood and is found in animal sources such as beef, chicken, oysters, mussels, turkey, and ham. But these are not the only places where you can get iron. So the answer is yes, you can meet your body’s iron requirements without animal products. But, because iron deficiencies are so common even when you eat meat, it’s best to check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

The best vegan sources of iron

There are several ways to mix and match iron-rich plant-based foods. Here are vegan foods that contain this vital mineral:


1 legumes

Lentils, beans, and peas contain iron, but some have higher amounts than others. Of all these legumes, lentils have the highest amount of iron. According to USDA data, they contain 6.6 mg of iron per cooked cup. Chickpeas, navy beans, navy beans, kidney beans, and black peas are also good sources of iron. In addition to this, these complex carbohydrates are high in heart-healthy dietary fiber and contain vitamins and minerals, including folate, a type of B vitamin used to treat anemia.

two soy products

Soy-based proteins like tofu and tempeh have decent amounts of iron. One cup of raw, crumbled tempeh contains 4.48 mg, while extra-firm tofu will provide you with eight percent of your daily value. Both are also good sources of plant-based calcium.

3 Nuts and seeds

Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds are the best vegan sources of iron from nuts and seeds. Get your iron by eating a handful of unroasted, unsalted nuts or seeds, or enjoy them in the form of nut butter. Hemp and chia seeds can also be used as an egg substitute in vegan baking, which will add small amounts of iron to your treats.

4 Dark, leafy greens

Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, Swiss chard and bok choy contain small amounts of iron, ranging from 0.99 to 2.15 mg per cup cooked, without salt or other types of seasonings. Cooking is actually the secret to unlocking the maximum amount of iron in these healthy vegetables. The good news is that it doesn’t matter if those vegetables are fresh or frozen, and the latter tends to be the more affordable option.

5 Broccoli, Cabbage, and Brussels Sprouts

Adding some cruciferous vegetables to your plate will give you some iron, plus dietary fiber and a mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One cup of cooked raw broccoli, shredded raw cabbage, and Brussels sprouts has between 0.52 and 1.86 mg of iron.


6 Potatoes

It’s a beautiful thing: A medium potato contains about 1.7 mg of iron, which is nine percent of your daily value. The problem is that you can’t peel it: the skin is where most of the iron is concentrated.

7 certain mushrooms

Mushrooms contain iron, but only in certain varieties. One cup of cooked white button mushrooms, the most common and usually cheapest option in grocery stores, provides you with 2.7 mg of iron. One hundred grams of enoki mushrooms (we recommend weighing instead of glasses because of their shape) have 1.28 mg of iron.

8 Tomato paste

Those fresh tomatoes have incomparable flavor, but they don’t have much iron content. Tomato paste, however, will add small amounts of iron to your diet. One tablespoon of unsalted tomato paste contains 0.47 mg of iron. We like to use it in red sauce, lentil stews, beans, and as a fresh tomato substitute when our pantry is empty.

9 Dried fruit

Repeat after us: figs, dates, raisins, and prunes are great. Dried fruits have a reputation for being high in sugar, which is true, but they also contain iron, dietary fiber, and simple carbohydrates. Half a cup of deglet noor dates contains 0.75 mg of iron, while the same amount of figs contains 1.5 mg. A few tablespoons of raisins in your oatmeal or cereal will also do you good, considering that half a cup contains 2.13 mg. Unsulfured dried apricots are also rich in iron.

10 whole grains

You’ll typically find more iron in whole grains than processed grains, but as you’ll see below, some fortified grain-based foods also contain it. For whole grains, choose oatmeal, spelled, quinoa, and long-grain brown rice. These deliver between 1.13 and 3.2 mg of iron per cooked cup, which is nothing to sniff at.


eleven Enriched pasta and bread

Some enriched bread and pasta products contain added iron. The trick to finding out what they are is to read the nutritional information. A package of enriched spaghetti, for example, might offer 4.15 mg of iron.

12 Some types of vegan meat

Some plant-based meats, like Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger, contain iron. But many tend to be high in sodium, which could be a problem for people with high blood pressure.

13 Other sources

Some foods that don’t fall into the other categories contain iron. Just one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses contains 20 percent of your daily value for iron, but it’s not a food you eat most often. Dark chocolate, a bar that contains at least 45 percent cocoa solids, can also provide iron, although the content differs from bar to bar. In general, a one-ounce piece of dark chocolate contains 3.4 mg of iron.

You can also take vegan supplements to add daily iron to your diet. Check with your doctor before adding a supplement to your routine.

For more information on vegan nutrition, read:
How to Get Calcium on a Vegan Diet
The Vegan Guide to High Protein Milk
5 Reasons to Ditch Keto and Go Vegan

Vote in the 2022 Best Vegan Ice Cream in America Awards.


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