How to Get Enough Iron as a Vegan to Avoid a Deficiency

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Other than Vitamin B12 deficiency, an iron deficiency is probably the next most likely deficiency in vegans.

It has very serious consequences too.

Being deficient in iron leads to fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, and many more negative health effects.

But if you understand how iron fits into a vegan diet, you should have no problem avoiding an iron deficiency as a vegan.

I will cover all the essentials in this post, it’ll take just a few minutes to read.

There are basically 3 options that you have to help your body absorb more iron.

Let’s go through them.

1. Start Eating More of These Iron Rich Vegan Foods

Take a few minutes and go through my page on the best vegan sources of iron.

Print these out if you need to and stick them on the fridge, or just bookmark the page.

Focus on eating more of the best iron rich foods, and soon it’ll become habit.

Iron vs Calories Bubble Chart of Vegan Foods

Overall, you need to eat more:

  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Oats
  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale)
  • Nuts

If you’re already eating those regularly, then raw iron intake is likely not your issue.

Instead, you’re probably not absorbing a high percentage of the iron.

2. Always Pair Your Iron Sources with Vitamin C

I’ve always eaten a lot of foods high in iron since turning vegan.

However, my hemoglobin levels (related to iron absorption) dropped to worrying amounts.

As I was giving blood (yes, vegans can still give blood), there were a few times where my hemoglobin was below the low end of the optimal range:

hemoglobin blood levels

But you’ll notice that my levels shot way up at the end during my last 2 visits.

Why?

Because I started adding vitamin C to all my meals with iron in them.

Iron found in plants is called non-heme iron, and it absorbs pretty poorly.

However, it’s been proven that consuming vitamin C alongside iron greatly increases the amount of iron you absorb (up to 3 times as much), non-heme iron included.

Whether you just take a supplement, or you add in vegan foods high in vitamin C, your body will absorb a lot more iron.

How much vitamin C should you add to your iron rich meals?

The short answer is at least 14 mg of vitamin C per mg of iron. In practical terms, this usually means as much vitamin C as you can.

If you want to see all the research behind that number broken down, see my post detailing how much vitamin C is needed for optimal iron absorption.

3. If Necessary, Take an Iron Supplement

In most cases (though not all), vegan men will have no problem getting enough iron if they do the 2 things above.

However, women need more than double the amount of iron that men do, and even more if pregnant.

If you’re really struggling hitting a healthy iron level, you can always turn to a supplement.

I’ve researched and summarized the best vegan iron supplements if you’re interested in this option.

You only need to take 1 per day (sometimes less), and most of them come packaged with vitamin C included already.

Obviously it’s nice if you can get enough iron in your diet, but supplementing can be more convenient and reliable. Note that side effects from iron supplements are relatively common, so be aware of them before starting.

In Summary

As long as you don’t have a medical condition interfering with iron absorption, there’s no reason you should have an issue getting enough iron on a vegan diet.

To summarize, there are 3 main ways that vegans can get enough iron to avoid a deficiency:

  1. Focus more on eating foods high in iron.
  2. Always pair iron sources with vitamin C in a meal.
  3. Take an iron supplement if you think it’s needed.

About the author

Dale C.

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance writer. Trying to do my small part in making the world better by writing about the wonderful world of veganism.

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