Dec 7, 2008


One of the difficulties with a vegetarian diet is that it can sometimes take a bit more work to make sure you're including all of the nutrients you need in your diet. The one I have the most difficulty with is iron, although I had difficulty with this even when I ate meat so that's not too surprising. I scoured the internet for information on iron, and this is what I found (note: I apologize in advance for the table formatting. Try visiting the original webpage if my table is difficult to read):

How much iron do you need?
Recommended dietary allowance for iron is:
  • 10 mg a day for men age 19 and older and women age 51 and older who are not menstruating
  • 15 mg a day for women 19-50 who are menstruating
  • 30 mg a day for pregnant women
  • 15mg a day for breastfeeding women

Iron - What Foods Can It Be Found In?
There are two kinds of iron: heme iron is found in red meats, fish and poultry, and is better-absorbed than non-heme iron, which is found in enriched cereals, leafy veggies and raisins.

Unlike calcium, which is already found in your body, iron can only be obtained from food. It's found in everything from raisins to red meat, such as liver. Other good sources of iron are fish, eggs, beans and leafy green vegetables, like spinach and lettuce. Eating breakfast is a great way to fill up on iron - try an iron-enriched cereal, such as bran flakes, and add raisins for sweetness and flavor. And top your meal off with a glass of prune juice - it may not taste great, but it'll definitely fuel your bod with energy. Generally, only about five to 10 percent of the iron in food is absorbed, unless there are low levels of iron in the body, such as after menstrual bleeding.

How can I get the most out of my iron foods?
McKinley Health Center
The following factors will increase the iron absorption from non-heme foods:
  • A good source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) - i.e., oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes, broccoli, and strawberries, eaten with a NON-HEME food
  • A HEME and NON-HEME food eaten together
  • A NON-HEME food cooked in an iron pot, such as a cast iron skillet

The following factors will decrease non-heme iron absorption:
  • Large amounts of tea or coffee consumed with a meal (the polyphenols bind the iron).
  • Excess consumption of high fiber foods or bran supplements (the phytates in such foods inhibit absorption).
  • High intake of calcium - take your calcium supplement at a different time from your iron supplement.

UGeorgia Health Center
  • Choose lean meats, fish and poultry - the iron in these foods is absorbed better than the iron in plant sources.
  • Eat vegetables and grains with lean meat - the average absorption of iron from plant sources is low, but increases when these are eaten with meat, poultry and fish.
  • Eat iron-rich legumes - dried beans and peas are the most iron-rich plant products in our diets.
  • Combine iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C - a glass of orange juice with your breakfast can more than double the amount of iron your body absorbs.
  • Avoid drinking tea or coffee with your meals - a cup of tea with breakfast can block 3/4 of the iron you would have absorbed.
  • Cook foods in an iron pot whenever practical - spaghetti sauce simmered in an iron pot for about 20 minutes increases its iron content nine fold. This would work as well for other acidic foods.
  • Eat iron-fortified foods - iron-fortified or enriched breakfast cereals and other foods can help boost your iron intake. Be sure to combine them with high vitamin C foods like citrus fruit, broccoli, cantaloupe, strawberries or kiwi to increase absorption.

Iron in Low-Fat Foods
Clams 3 oz 14
Oysters 3 oz. 6.6
Shrimp 3 oz. 2.5
Tuna 3 oz. 1.3
Chicken (breast roasted) 3 oz. 1
Duck (flesh only, roasted) 3 oz. 2
Sirloin (lean, broiled) 3 oz. 2
Turkey (breast, roasted) 3 oz. 1.2
Turkey (drumstick) 3 oz. 2
Lentils (cooked) 1/2 cup 3.3
Lima beans (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.25
Dried beans (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.3
Split Peas (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.25
Tofu (raw) 1/2 cup 6.65
Cream of Wheat (reg, cooked) 1/2 cup 6
Fortified breakfast cereal (Total, e.g.) 1/2 cup 18
Pasta (cooked) 1/2 cup 1
Wheat germ, toasted 2 Tbsp. 1.3
Apricots (dried) 1/4 cup 1.5
Broccoli (cooked) 1/2 cup 0.6
Brussels Sprouts (cooked) 1/2 cup 1
Peaches (dried) 1/4 cup 1.6
Peas (cooked) 1/2 cup 1.26
Potato (cooked, with skin) 1 medium 2.35
Prunes 1/4 cup 1
Raisins 1/4 cup 1
Spinach (raw) 1 cup 1
Spinach (boiled) 1/2 cup 2
Squash (winter, acorn, cooked) 1 cup 1.37
Good Sources of Iron

* Animal liver, kidney and heart
* Oysters
* Iron-fortified bread and cereal
* Lean red meat
* Nuts
* Egg yolks
* Dried beans and legumes
* Blackstrap molasses
* Dried fruit
* Dark leafy green vegetables
* Foods cooked in an iron skillet
Dried beans and dark green leafy vegetables are especially good sources of iron, even better on a per calorie basis than meat. Iron absorption is increased markedly by eating foods containing vitamin C along with foods containing iron. Vegetarians do not have a higher incidence of iron deficiency than do meat eaters.

Food Amount Iron (mg)

Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 8.8
Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp 7.2
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 6.6
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 6.4
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 6.3
Tofu 4 ounces 6
Bagel, enriched 3 ounces 5.2
Tempeh 1 cup 4.8
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 4.4
Swiss chard, cooked 1 cup 4
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 3.6
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 3.5
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 3.2
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 3.2
Potato 1 large 3.2
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 3
Prune juice 8 ounces 3
Beet greens, cooked 1 cup 2.7
Tahini 2 Tbsp 2.7
Veggie hot dog 1 hot dog 2.7
Peas, cooked 1 cup 2.5
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 2.3
Cashews 1/4 cup 2.1
Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup 1.9
Bok choy, cooked 1 cup 1.8
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 1.7
Raisins 1/2 cup 1.6
Almonds 1/4 cup 1.5
Apricots, dried 15 halves 1.4
Veggie burger, commercial 1 patty 1.4
Watermelon 1/8 medium 1.4
Soy yogurt 6 ounces 1.1
Tomato juice 8 ounces 1
Green beans, cooked 1 cup 1.2
Kale, cooked 1 cup 1.2
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 1.2
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 1.1
Millet, cooked 1 cup 1.1
Sesame seeds 2 Tbsp 1


Total® cereal 1 cup 18
Grape Nuts® cereal 1/2 cup 8.2
Instant plain oatmeal 1 packet 6.7
Wheat germ 1 ounce (1/4 cup) 2.6
Broccoli 1 medium stalk 2.1
Baked potato 1 medium 2.7
Spinach 1 cup raw 0.8
Dried peach 5 halves 2.6
Raw tofu 1/2 cup 4
Lentils 1/2 cup 3.3
Kidney beans 1/2 cup 2.6
Chickpeas 1/2 cup 2.4
Beef chuck 3 ounces 3.2
Dark meat turkey 3 ounces 2
Blackstrap molasses 1 tablespoon 5

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