Sunday, September 20, 2009

Best Raw Vegan, Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Sources of Iron - How to Help Avoid Iron Deficiency Anemia and Toxicity

Why Iron is Important
The World Health Organization claims that iron deficiency is the number one nutritional disease in the world affecting 30% of the population. Although many of the 2 billion affected are women and children in third world countries, iron deficiency is also prevalent in industrialized countries. Children, young girls and women of childbearing age are most “at risk” in the United States.

The most important use of iron in our bodies is to form hemoglobin – a molecule in our red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout our system. If there is not enough iron in your diet, you run the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, brittle nails, irritability, sore tongue, paleness of the skin, dizziness, weight loss and unusual food cravings.

Heme and Non-Heme Iron
Heme iron is the most easily absorbed form and only comes from animal products. Non-heme iron comes from plants and animal products. Plant sources contain 100% non-heme iron and animal products contain 40% heme and 60% non-heme iron. Because non-heme iron is less easily absorbed, vegetarians have a higher Recommended Daily Allowance of this nutrient. Even so, iron is so prevalent in the plant kingdom, with dietary care, vegetarians are no more at risk for iron deficiency than meat eaters.

Factors that Reduce Iron Absorption
Phytates, commonly found in nuts, beans and grains, can reduce the absorption of iron. Soaking or sprouting these foods, which is commonly done in the raw food community, can reduce phytic acid making the iron more bio-available. If buying bread or cereal, choose “sprouted” grain when available.
Tannins also decrease the absorption of iron and are found in black tea, coffee and wine. You may want to have that glass of wine before your iron-rich meal and skip the tea and coffee until much later.
Calcium should also be avoided when trying to optimize iron absorption. Calcium supplements should be taken several hours before eating an iron rich meal and calcium rich beverages such as milk should also be avoided during the meal.
Low stomach acid and antacids reduce iron absorption.
Phosphates in soft drinks can also reduce absorption of this important mineral. Here is one more reason not to drink soda with a meal (or ever, actually).

Factors that Enhance Iron Absorption
Vitamin C significantly enhances the absorption of non-heme iron. Citrus fruits, being high in vitamin C, improve iron absorption. When vegans and vegetarians eat many vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables, their absorption of non-heme iron can equal the absorption of heme iron by meat eaters. High vitamin C foods include: guava, kiwi, papaya, berries, citrus, orange juice, peppers, spinach, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and greens to name a few. Don’t forget, this vitamin is very heat sensitive, so it’s always better to eat the fruits and vegetables raw or cook them “crisp tender”.
Stomach acid also enhances absorption.

Daily Requirements for Non-Vegetarians
Adult men and post-menopausal women: 8 mg
Women of childbearing age: 18 mg
Pregnant women: 27 mg
Lactating women: 9 to 10 mg

Daily Requirements for Vegetarians
Adult men and post-menopausal women: 14 mg
Women of childbearing age: 33 mg
Pregnant vegetarian women: 48.6 mg

Can you get Too Much Iron?
The upper limit for iron is 45 mg a day which isn’t difficult to reach if your multi has iron, you cook with cast iron cookware and you eat fortified foods such as Total or Multigrain Cheerios. Excess iron has been known to cause constipation and GI distress. Iron toxicity symptoms include fatigue, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, weight loss, dizziness, and a gray hue to the skin. A hypothesis exists that suggests excess stored iron may lead to heart disease in men and post-menopausal women. Younger women, who regularly decrease their iron store during menstruation, enjoy a lower rate of heart disease. This would explain why women’s rate of cardiovascular disease after menopause increases. Many health professionals now suggest that adults avoid iron supplementation unless they are anemic. Many multi-vitamins are available "without iron".

Raw Food Vegan Sources of Iron: (source,
Raw Vegetables (Per 1 cup serving)
Asparagus, 2.9 mg
Mustard spinach, 2.3 mg
Leeks, 1.9 mg
Kale, 1.1 mg
Dandelion greens, 1.7 mg
Spring onions, 1.5 mg
Fruits (Per ½ cup serving or as noted)
Dried Apricots, 3.8 mg
Dried Peaches, 3.2 mg
Dried currants, 2.3 mg
Sun dried tomatoes, 2.5 mg
Avocado (1 cup pureed), 1.4 mg
Raw Nuts and Seeds (Per 1 ounce serving or as noted)
Pumpkin and squash seeds, 4.3 mg
Sesame seeds, 4.1 mg
Organic raw Tahini (1 tablespoon), 3.0 mg**
Cashew nuts, 1.9 mg
Pine nuts, 1.6 mg
Flax seeds, 1.6 mg
Hemp seeds, 1.3 mg
Unfortunately, very little data exists on raw, sprouted grains.
Crude rice bran (2 tablespoons) 2.7 mg
Sprouted wheat (1/2 cup) 1.2 mg
Raw Beans (Per 1 cup serving)
Peanuts, 6.7 mg
Sprouted lentils, 2.5 mg
Snow peas, sugar snap peas, 2.0 mg
Dried spirulina (1 tablespoon), 2 mg
Parsley (1/2 cup fresh), 1.9 mg
Cumin seed (1 teaspoon), 1.3 mg
Dried Thyme (1 teaspoon), 1.2 mg

Cooked Vegan Food Sources of Iron (Source:
Cooked Vegetables (Per 1 cup serving or as noted)
Spinach, 6.4 mg
Swiss Chard, 4.0 mg
Potato (1 large baked), 3.2 mg
Beet greens, 2.7 mg
Collards, 2.2 mg
Brussels sprouts, 1.8 mg
Turnip greens, 1.2 mg
Kale, 1.2 mg
Broccoli, 1.0 mg
Cooked Grains (Per 1 cup serving)
Kellogg’s Oat Bran Flakes, 25.2 mg
General Mills Whole Grain Total, 24 mg
Multigrain Cheerios, 18.6 mg
Spelt, 3.2 mg
Quinoa, 2.8 mg
Multigrain bread,(2 slices), 1.4 mg
Brown rice, 0.8 mg
Cooked Beans (Per 1 cup serving)
Soybeans, 8.8 mg
Lentils, 6.6 mg
Black beans, 3.6 mg
Pinto beans, 3.6 mg
Garbanzo beans, 3.2 mg
Kidney beans, 3.0 mg
Peas, 2.4 mg
Blackstrap molasses (2 tablespoons), 7.2 mg**

Sources of Heme Iron (Per 3 oz. serving or as noted)
Chicken livers, simmered, 9.9 mg
Chicken, thigh meat, stewed, 1.2 mg
Beef liver, braised, 5.4 mg
Beef, lean top sirloin, 1.5 mg
Egg, hard-boiled (2 large), 1.2 mg
Pacific oysters, raw, 4.3 mg
Tuna, light, canned in water, drained, 1.3 mg
Salmon, wild Atlantic, cooked dry heat, 0.9 mg

(**) source, manufacturers information

Iron is plentiful in both the animal and plant kingdoms.

Vegans can get sufficient iron from plants by eating those high in iron and eating foods like fortified cereals. Iron absorption will increase with the consumption of foods high in vitamin C at the same meal. To optimize iron consumption, grains and beans can be soaked to lessen phytate content. Tannins, antacids and soda should be avoided and calcium supplements should not be taken at mealtime.

Raw food vegans (especially pregnant women or women of childbearing age) may have a harder time getting sufficient iron, especially if on a 100% raw food diet. If you are 80% raw or less, consider supplementing your diet with high iron foods like cooked beans and taking all of the other precautions listed above.

Men and post-menopausal women should be careful not to supplement or eat too many iron-fortified foods unless they have iron deficiency anemia.


Berry Blue Toes said...

Thanks for this. I just had blood work done and my iron levels came back as low. Great info!

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