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:
- 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)
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|
|Lentils||1 cup (cooked)||230||6.6|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||170||5.3|
|Kidney beans||1 cup (cooked)||219||5.3|
|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|
|Peas||1 cup (cooked)||134||2.5|
|Pumpkin seeds||1 cup||285||2.1|
|White potato||1 large potato||281||1.9|
|Brussel Sprouts||6 sprouts||48||1.8|
|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|
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).
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:
- Kidney beans
- Sesame seeds
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)|
|Brussel Sprouts||6 sprouts||48||1.8||26.66|
|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|
|Kidney beans||1 cup (cooked)||219||5.3||41.32|
|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|
|Flaxseed (whole)||1 tbsp||54.7||0.6||91.16|
|Broccoli||1 small stalk||98||0.9||108.88|
|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|
|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:
- Brussel Sprouts
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
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
- Navy beans
- Black beans
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.