Iron is a powerhouse of a dietary nutrient. It’s like a little freight train that carries oxygen through our blood—helping to stave off fatigue, breathlessness and that overall feeling of being cranky—as it chugs through our system.
So-called heme iron—which only comes from animal tissue—is the easiest for the body to absorb. The non-heme iron of vegetarian fare is harder for the body to absorb and that means vegetarians should be more mindful of their iron. The Dietary Reference Intakes from the United States Department of Agriculture recommends that vegetarians consume 1.8 times as much iron as non-vegetarians to be safe.
It turns out most people aren’t getting enough iron: Anemia affects over two billion people and for many of those people, the anemia is caused by an iron deficiency, according to the World Health Organization. Not getting enough iron raises the risk of anxiety, depression, and many other ailments. Scared yet?
This may sound like terrible news for vegetarians, but the American Dietetic Association reported in 2003 that vegetarians actually get more iron than non-vegetarians with vegans consuming the most iron of all. Score one for the leaf eaters! Many vegetarian foods have a more dense distribution of iron than their beefy counterparts. For example, 100 calories of spinach offers the same amount of iron as 1700 calories of sirloin steak.
Also, while you vegetarians are eating your tempeh burger, make sure to get it with a side of vitamin C: It helps boost the absorption of non-heme to six times the normal amount. According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended intake of vitamin C per day is 75mg for adult women and 90mg for adult men. Vegetarians should be sure to meet this, if not exceed it a bit, every day. According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin C can be consumed in much higher doses than the recommended amounts, but it should not surpass 2,000mg a day.
Click through to the next page to check out 7 recipes packed with delicious iron rich foods. Be sure to add a few to your vegetarian diet to stay at your peak.