23 Oct

Iron can be found in a multitude of foods, including: nuts, seeds, pulses (lima, kidney, azure, mung beans; peas; chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas), grains, dry fruit, sea veggies, parsley, leafy greens, molasses, and miso!

Based on some light internet research, it appears that up to 22% of the iron in meat is absorbed, while only 1-8% is absorbed from eggs and plant foods. If the reserves of iron in your body fall, the rate of iron absorption rises. About 40% of the iron in animal foods is in a form called haem iron. The rest, and all the iron in plant foods, is in the less well absorbed non-haem form. Iron absorption from plant sources can also be reduced by tannins and phytates (found in nuts, grain and seeds – see yesterday’s post). Tannins are, unfortunately, found in quite a few foods: tea, coffee, wine, beer, sorghum, pomegranates, persimmons, cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans. I was only able to confirm that the tannins in tea, coffee, wine and sorghum absolutely affect iron absorption, but it’s safe to assume the other foods listed have some effect as well.

Maybe this sounds a little depressing but take heart, research has shown that iron deficiency in vegans is no more common than in the rest of the population. Just eating meat does not guarantee a high internal level of minerals!

You can help your body absorb iron from plant foods by incorporating any of the following in your meals: vitamin C (ascorbic acid), other organic acids such as malic acid (e.g. in pumpkins, plums and apples) and citric acid (in citrus fruits). A lab test performed on about 300 people showed that the inclusion of foods like fresh salad, orange juice or cauliflower, which provide 70-105mg of vitamin C increased the absorption of iron. Just 4.5oz cauliflower containing 60mg of vitamin C may cause more than three-fold increase in iron absorption!

Here’s the part that contradicts yesterday’s post (& what I said above) a bit: some studies have shown that when iron intake from plant foods is relatively high (14-26mg/day), even large amounts of phytate do not have a negative effect on iron balance. Note that only some studies showed these results. In any case, phytates may inhibit absorption of other minerals, but their effect on iron absorption is debatable.

So that’s iron for you. I had wondered for a while about the validity of various claims concerning iron deficiencies in vegetarians/vegans, so I tried to find out the whole story. Much more research could have been done, but time is always an issue!


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