How vegetarians and vegans can meet their iron needs1
Do you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet? If so, friends and relatives may have expressed concern about your iron intake. Don’t worry. With a little planning, some nutritional understanding and by being alert to the symptoms and risk factors of iron deficiency, you can enjoy a vibrant meat-free lifestyle!
Two types of iron
There are two types of iron in food: haem and non-haem. Haem iron comes from animals, and non-haem comes from plants, fortified cereals and eggs. Vegetarians and especially vegans are at increased risk of iron deficiency because non-haem iron from plant sources is four to five times more difficult to absorb than haem iron.
Understanding how your body absorbs iron is a good first step in modifying your diet to include high-iron content foods, and foods that assist with iron absorption which also fit in with your dietary choices.
What to eat
Good sources of non-haem iron include eggs, nuts, wholemeal pasta and bread, iron-fortified cereal, pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas and green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli.
Eating foods rich in vitamin C will help you absorb non-haem iron. So try to include these in your meal. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi fruit, pawpaw, melons, green leafy veggies, tomatoes and capsicum.
Iron absorption inhibitors
Some foods and beverages can limit your body's ability to absorb iron. Tea and coffee are among the main culprits, so it may be best to enjoy your hot drinks between meals. Calcium-rich foods and supplements can also hamper iron absorption, as can certain types of fibre and plant protein. If you need specific guidance, your doctor or an accredited dietitian can help with iron absorption hacks for your body.
Am I getting enough iron?
You may be able to meet your iron needs if you take care to include plenty of iron-rich food in your meals and do what you can to aid absorption. However, it may be time to see your doctor if you have heavy periods, are pregnant or breastfeeding, are trying for a baby or if you find yourself regularly feeling tired or fatigued.
If your doctor diagnoses you with iron deficiency, they may recommend a therapeutic iron supplement such as Ferro-grad C® to help you meet your iron needs.
Iron deficiency affects 1 in 5 women under the age of 50 years,2 which goes to show just how difficult it can be to maintain iron levels.
Is Ferro-grad C® suitable for vegetarians and vegans?
Ferro-grad C® is free from ingredients derived from animal sources. So, if your doctor recommends a therapeutic iron supplement, you can feel reassured that Ferro-grad C® will be compatible with your dietary choices.
As always, follow the recommendations of your doctor when taking Ferro-grad C® or any other iron supplements, because any recommendation is tailored to your specific needs.
- Gastroenterological Society of Australia, Iron Deficiency Clinical Update (updated October 2015). 2. Ahmed F, et al Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2008;17 (1):40-47.