Vegan Sources of Iron: From Highest to Lowest

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Vegan? Worried about getting enough iron?

You came to the right place.

I’ve compiled a list of the best vegan sources of iron, in a few different formats to make the data as useful as possible.

I only included “whole foods”, so nothing like fortified cereal even though it has quite a bit of iron.

It’s possible to be iron deficient on a vegan diet if you’re not eating iron-rich foods. The first signs of this are:

  • Fatigue
  • Paleness
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Heart palpitations

How much iron do you need per day? According to the NIH, It depends on your age, gender, and size, but for most adults it’s around 8-18 mg per day. (Source)

iron-intake by the NIH

Best Vegan Sources of Iron Per Serving

Using a few food databases, I compiled a list of vegan foods that have significant amounts of iron in them.

For the table below, it’s all done on a per serving basis.

Food Serving size Calories Iron (mg)
Sesame seeds 1/2 cup 412.5 10.45
Oats 1 cup 607 7.4
Cashews 50 g 276 6.7
Lentils 1 cup (cooked) 230 6.6
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 170 5.3
Kidney beans 1 cup (cooked) 219 5.3
Amaranth 1 cup 251 5.2
Chickpeas 1 cup (cooked) 269 4.7
Navy beans 1 cup (cooked) 255 4.3
Coconut milk 1 cup 552 3.9
Black beans 1 cup (cooked) 227 3.6
Quinoa 1 cup 222 2.8
Tofu 1/2 block 113 2.6
Pistachios 1/2 cup 351 2.6
Peas 1 cup (cooked) 134 2.5
Tempeh 1/2 cup 160 2.25
Kale 2 cups 66 2.2
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 2.1
Spirulina 1 tbsp 20 2
White potato 1 large potato 281 1.9
Brussel Sprouts 6 sprouts 48 1.8
Almonds 1/2 cup 273 1.75
Walnuts 1/2 cup 382.5 1.7
Peanuts 1/2 cup 427 1.65
Spinach 2 cups 14 1.6
Parsley 1 tbsp 4 1.5
Spearmint 1 tbsp 4 1.3
Thyme 1 tbsp 1 1.2
Broccoli 1 small stalk 98 0.9
Cocoa powder 1 tbsp 196 0.7
Flaxseed (whole) 1 tbsp 54.7 0.6
Peanut butter 2 tbsp 188 0.6
Tomatoes 1 large 33 0.5
Oregano 1 tsp 3 0.4
Mushrooms 1 cup 15.4 0.3
Basil 1 tsp 1 0.2

I think iron per serving is the most useful information to most people, but there are a few other ways we can look at the data.

The Vegan Foods With the Most Iron and Fewest Calories

Below is a simple bubble chart that compares the amount of iron in a food to the number of calories it has (click to enlarge).

Iron vs Calories Bubble Chart of Vegan Foods

Foods to the right have a lot of iron.

Foods to the top have a lot of calories.

Ideally, you get as much iron as possible, with the fewest calories, so the best ones in this respect are the foods closest to the bottom right:

  • Cashews
  • Kidney beans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Lentils
  • Mushrooms
  • Tofu

And so on.

Here’s a final table that has a similar meaning as the bubble chart above.

It includes a column for “Calories per mg of iron”.

In other words, a low number in the last column is a good thing.

Food Serving size Calories Iron (mg) Calories per mg (lower is better)
Thyme 1 tbsp 1 1.2 0.83
Parsley 1 tbsp 4 1.5 2.66
Spearmint 1 tbsp 4 1.3 3.07
Basil 1 tsp 1 0.2 5
Oregano 1 tsp 3 0.4 7.5
Spinach 2 cups 14 1.6 8.75
Spirulina 1 tbsp 20 2 10
Brussel Sprouts 6 sprouts 48 1.8 26.66
Kale 2 cups 66 2.2 30
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 170 5.3 32.07
Lentils 1 cup (cooked) 230 6.6 34.84
Sesame seeds 1/2 cup 412.5 10.45 39.47
Cashews 50 g 276 6.7 41.19
Kidney beans 1 cup (cooked) 219 5.3 41.32
Tofu 1/2 block 113 2.6 43.46
Amaranth 1 cup 251 5.2 48.26
Mushrooms 1 cup 15.4 0.3 51.33
Peas 1 cup (cooked) 134 2.5 53.6
Chickpeas 1 cup (cooked) 269 4.7 57.23
Navy beans 1 cup (cooked) 255 4.3 59.30
Black beans 1 cup (cooked) 227 3.6 63.05
Tomatoes 1 large 33 0.5 66
Tempeh 1/2 cup 160 2.25 71.11
Quinoa 1 cup 222 2.8 79.28
Oats 1 cup 607 7.4 82.02
Flaxseed (whole) 1 tbsp 54.7 0.6 91.16
Broccoli 1 small stalk 98 0.9 108.88
Pistachios 1/2 cup 351 2.6 135
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 2.1 135.71
Coconut milk 1 cup 552 3.9 141.53
White potato 1 large potato 281 1.9 147.89
Almonds 1/2 cup 273 1.75 156
Walnuts 1/2 cup 382.5 1.7 225
Peanuts 1/2 cup 427 1.65 258.78
Cocoa powder 1 tbsp 196 0.7 280
Peanut butter 2 tbsp 188 0.6 313.33

It’s clear that certain spices rank well, because they have some iron and almost zero calories. But there’s no enjoyable way to eat 20 servings of a spice, which is one flaw of this presentation.

The 3 Main Types of Vegan Foods That Are High in Iron

The table and graphs above are not 100% complete, but I included every vegan food I could find or think of that has iron.

It’s a good idea to think of the general types of foods that have iron when you’re planning your meals, of which there are 3 main categories.

Vegetables (Mainly green ones)

Vegetables have a reasonable amount of iron, but very few calories. The top ones from above are:

  • Spinach
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes

The big issue with them is that it’s hard to eat a lot of them.

So try to include them when you can, but understand that you’re unlikely to get 100% of your iron from them unless you eat 10 salads a day.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are relatively high in calories, but also have quite a bit of iron.

The biggest benefit of them is that it’s easy to eat a lot of nuts, although the calories add up fast.

The best nut and seed sources are:

  • Sesame seeds
  • Cashews
  • Flaxseed
  • Pistachios

Legumes (Beans, lentils, etc)

Legumes are a nice balance of both of the above categories.

Lots of iron (and nutrients in general), can be eaten in fairly large quantities, but also have a relatively high number of calories.

This is where I get the bulk of my iron, and I’d recommend you do the same.

The best sources from above are:

  • Kidney beans
  • Tofu
  • Navy beans
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas

Note: Vegan Sources of Iron Are Typically Hard to Absorb

There are 2 types of iron: heme and non-heme iron.

Animal foods have a mix of both, while plants only have non-heme iron.

Unfortunately, we don’t absorb non-heme iron as well. But there are a few things you can do to improve how well you absorb the iron in your food:

  1. Eat it with vitamin C – Absorbic acid (vitamin C) has been shown to improve the bioavailability of non-heme iron in studies. Add lemon (juice) to your meals, or eat a fruit with vitamin C with these foods high in iron.
  2. Soak your legumes –Soaking your beans improves the bioavailability of many nutrients, including iron (it reduces antinutrients like phytates that bind to iron and prevent absorption).
  3. Consume enough lysine – Lysine is required to digest non-heme iron well. Studies have shown that eating foods high in lysine improves iron absorption. This is important to prevent hair loss as well.

How to Track Your Iron Intake

To wrap things up, one final thing I’d like to mention is a food tracking app called Cronometer.

It breaks down all the food you eat and makes it easy to see if you’re getting enough of each nutrient, iron included.

overall nutrients

Here’s my full Cronometer review if you’d like to learn more about it.

I’d recommend tracking your diet for a few weeks to see if you’re getting enough iron, and once you’re comfortable it’s up to you if you’d like to continue.

If you just can’t get enough iron from your diet, or it’s too inconvenient, there are many vegan iron supplements that can help. Here’s a list of the top vegan iron supplements if you’d like to learn more about this option.

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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