Are you fatigued, weak, short of breath? Do friends comment on your pallor, even in the summer, and do you find yourself fighting off cold after cold? You may be anemic due to iron deficiency. Because of menstruation and the monthly loss of blood adult women have higher daily iron requirements than men (18 mg to just 8mg) and are more susceptible to anemia. According to the Centers for Disease Control almost 10% of women in the United States are anemic due to iron deficiency, and many are unaware. Women who are pregnant, nursing, exercise heavily, or have digestive disorders like celiac or Crohn’s diseases which limit the absorption of iron will have even higher iron needs. A blood test can determine if you’re anemic and doctors may prescribe iron supplements or even injections along with an altered diet.
Meat, particularly red meat, is the best source of iron, both for recovering anemics and women looking to increase their iron intake. But anemic vegetarians don’t have to gobble down liver and steak to meet their daily iron needs and stay healthy. Vegetarians should be proactive about their iron needs and ensure their diet contains some of the follow iron-rich, non-meat foods. Eating a balanced, nutrient rich diet without meat is certainly doable, it just requires a little more creativity and planning.
1. Dark greens, like arugula/rocket (1.5 mg of iron in 100g), kale (1.5 mg in 100g), and spinach (2.7mg in 100g), especially cooked spinach (3.6 mg in 100g)
Ditch the white iceberg lettuce and load up your salad plate with leafy greens, packed not only with iron by folate and vitamins K,C, and A. And while the raw food movement may extoll the virtues of uncooked veggies, you should try to consume the cooked variety too: the cooking process helps release iron for absorption by your body.
2. Soybeans (8.8mg of iron per cup, boiled) and tofu (5.4 mg of iron per 100g)
A vegetarians’ diet will probably already be high in this common meat substitute. A single cup of boiled soybeans can provide nearly half of a woman’s iron needs. Tofu, meanwhile, is the chameleon of cooking, taking on the flavors of whatever dish it’s in–and still packing a huge nutritional punch.
3. Black beans (9.7 mg per cup)
Legumes are already vegetarians’ go-to sources for protein. Black beans are particularly rich in iron. Only enjoy baked beans? Mexican food could be the vegetarian anemic’s greatest discovery. Branch out and bone up on your iron with a delicious black bean and egg breakfast burrito. Which brings us to…
4. Eggs (0.8mg iron in one large egg, scrambled; 0.6mg iron in one large egg, boiled)
They may not offer the most iron, but eggs pack such a nutritional wallop every vegetarian should incorporate them into their diet.
5. Nuts, especially pistachios (14mg iron per 100g)
Many nuts offer a hearty dose of iron, including cashews (6.7mg in 100g) and almonds (3.7mg per 100g), but pistachios leave them all in the dust. Pack a bag for a quick, filling, and nutritious mid-day snack.
6. Blackstrap molasses (4.7mg iron in 100g)
Want to meet your iron needs while satisfying a sweet tooth? Blackstrap molasses is the bittersweet treacle that remains after the extraction of sugar from raw sugar cane. It’s been extolled as a superfood, purported to assist with everything from hair regrowth to digestion. We can’t vouch for that but it is an excellent natural sweetener, low-calories, no fat, and with such a low glycemic load it’s safe for diabetics.
7. Dark chocolate (8mg of iron in 100g)
Barely a week passes without a new headline trumpeting the benefits of dark chocolate (or red wine). Maybe we’re trying too hard to justify our vices, but dark chocolate is indisputably an excellent source of iron, if nothing else.
8. Oysters (average of 6-7mg per 100g)
Some vegetarians still eat fish, including shellfish, and these so-called pescetarian should turn to the sea for their heartiest source of iron. The iron content will depend on whether your Oysters are Easter or Pacific, farmed or wild, and how they’re prepared, but in general 100mg of oysters should provide around 6-7mg of iron. And a healthy dose of zinc too.
9. Whole what bread (0.7mg per slice) and pasta (1.6mg per cup)
You should reach for the whole wheat variety of carbs for many reasons: lower calories, fewer preservatives, and more nutrients, including iron.
10. Brown rice (0.8 mg of iron per cup)
Similar, you should opt for brown rice over the white variety.
11. Oatmeal (14 mg per cup, cooked)
It’s the easiest breakfast possible, easily livened up with cinnamon, fruit, or other additives, or turned into cookies or granola bars for on-the-go snacks. It’s also packed with iron. With a bowl of oatmeal a woman could knock out more than half of her iron requirements before even leaving the house.
12. Iron-fortified cereals
If you’re still struggling to meet your iron requirements or you’re trying to treat an anemic child , look to iron-fortified cereals. Most cereals are now souped up with additional nutrients, including the very sugary ones, so be wary and look to Bran, Branflakes, and Weetabix.
Thanks to Lucy Franklin for this article. Lucy is a vegetarian, yogi and writer at essayhunters.com. Her favorite dish is falafel and couscous.