Diet and Nutrition 2022

Iron-rich foods (for vegetarians and vegans)

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Iron-rich foods (for vegetarians and vegans)
Iron-rich foods (for vegetarians and vegans)

People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are at greater risk of iron deficiency, as meat is one of the main sources of this type of mineral. However, there are several vegetables that can be included in the vegetarian and vegan diet to maintain good levels of iron in the body.

In addition, some strategies, such as eating citrus fruits along with other vegetables, or betting on the consumption of nutritional yeast, can also increase iron absorption, without having to resort to animal products.

Ovolactovegetarians should be extra careful, as they tend to consume many products with milk and dairy products, and the calcium present in these foods reduces the absorption of iron in the body, contributing to the deficiency of this mineral.See what are the main advantages and disadvantages of a vegetarian diet for he alth.

Top iron-rich vegetables

The main plant foods that can be considered good sources of iron are:

  • Pulses: beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils;
  • Dried fruits: apricot, plum, raisin;
  • Seeds: pumpkin, sesame, flaxseed;
  • Oilseeds: chestnuts, almonds, walnuts;
  • Dark green vegetables: kale, watercress, coriander, parsley;
  • Whole grains: wheat, oats, rice;
  • Others: cassava, tomato sauce, tofu, cane molasses.

These foods should be consumed regularly throughout the day, at different meals, to ensure adequate amounts of iron.

Strategies to increase iron absorption

Some tips that help increase iron absorption by the body and that should be adopted by vegetarians and vegans whenever possible are:

  1. Eat fruits rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, pineapples, acerola and kiwi, along with vegetables rich in iron;
  2. Cooking in an iron pan or skillet, as the iron present in the pan ends up releasing into the food, reinforcing its mineral composition;
  3. Avoid drinking milk and dairy products together with iron-rich vegetables, as calcium reduces iron absorption;
  4. Avoid drinking coffee and teas together with iron-rich vegetables, as the polyphenols present in these beverages reduce iron absorption;
  5. Consume foods rich in fructooligosaccharides, such as artichokes, soybeans, asparagus, garlic, leeks and bananas;
  6. Avoid the use of medication for heartburn, as iron from plant sources needs the acidic pH of the stomach to be properly absorbed.

It is also possible to buy vegetarian and vegan products enriched with iron and other minerals, such as rice flour, chocolate and crackers with seeds. Plant-based diets are also low in vitamin B12, which is also important for preventing anemia. See how to identify a lack of vitamin B12.

Vegetarians who eat milk and eggs tend to be more iron deficient than strict vegetarians because they usually have a high consumption of milk and dairy products, which reduces iron absorption. Thus, lacto-ovo vegetarians should pay extra attention to iron and perform routine tests to identify iron levels. See more about how to avoid nutrient deficiencies in the vegetarian diet.

Iron-rich diet menu for vegetarians

The following is an example 3-day menu of an iron-rich diet for vegetarians:

Day 1

  • Breakfast: 1 glass of milk + 1 wholemeal bread with butter;
  • Morning Snack: 3 cashews + 2 kiwis;
  • Lunch/Dinner: 4 tablespoons of brown rice + 3 tablespoons of beans + salad with chickpeas, parsley, tomato and watercress + 2 slices of pineapple;
  • Afternoon Snack: 1 yogurt with flaxseed + 5 Maria cookies + 3 prunes.

Day 2

  • Breakfast: 1 cup yogurt + whole-grain cereal;
  • Morning Snack: 4 wholemeal buttered toast + 3 walnuts;
  • Lunch/Dinner: 4 tablespoons of brown rice + 3 tablespoons of lentils + salad with soy beans, cabbage, tomato and sesame seeds + 1 orange;
  • Afternoon Snack: 1 glass of natural orange juice + 1 whole wheat bread with cheese.

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Avocado smoothie + 5 wholemeal ricotta toast;
  • Morning Snack: 5 cornstarch cookies + 3 apricots;
  • Lunch/Dinner: Pasta with wholemeal pasta, tofu, tomato sauce, olives and broccoli + purple lettuce, tomato and raisin salad + 8 acerolas;
  • Afternoon Snack: 1 yogurt + 5 seed cookies + 6 strawberries.

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