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Getting Enough Iron Without Meat

Plant and Grain Iron-Rich Foods You'll Want to Eat

Photo by Jenn Kosar on Unsplash

Do you know what tempeh is? How about backstrap molasses? If you know what they are, can you pick them up on your regular grocery run?

Finding non-meat sources of iron doesn't have to mean you are searching for foods you've never tried and that you don't know how to prepare. These foods have high iron content and also are commonly available.

Vegetables


Leafy green veggies are pretty much at the top of the list for every vitamin and mineral you need list. Iron is no exception, Swiss chard and arugula are great for iron. Although some studies suggest that spinach can deplete iron stores and that vegetarians should avoid it, the evidence is not clear. Still, it is best to consider eating a variety of other leafy greens.

Tomatoes and potatoes also are excellent sources of iron. The key to getting iron through tomatoes is to eat it in concentrated ways, such as tomato paste or sauce. Adding tomato paste to pizza, pasta, or other dishes can put a little boost of iron into an otherwise iron-deficient meal. White potatoes, though they have other bad nutritional properties, contain almost one-fifth of the day's recommended iron per large potato.

Nuts

Adding nuts to your diet is a simple and healthy way to get more iron. The best options are pine nuts, cashews, and pistachios. Because pine nuts and pistachios can be pricy, cashews are the best go-to for adding iron. Eat a handful of nuts for a snack or find a couple of good Thai recipes that include nuts.

Nut butters also are a great source of iron although you should avoid eating too much because of the high fat content. Spread two tbsp on an apple or banana for a snack or have a whole wheat bagel with an almond butter spread.

Seeds

Cheap and tasty, seeds are the simplest way to get a more iron-rich diet. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds have the highest concentrations of iron. Buy both in bulk and keep them in an airtight container for quick snacking. Sprinkle them on salads each time you have one. Add some to a small container with cranberries or dark chocolate chips for a delicious nutritious snack.

Beans

More than just the magical fruit, beans pack a punch when it comes to iron. At the top of the list is chickpeas. They are excellent on a salad but also make great snacks when they are roasted. Simply drain and dry a can of chickpeas. Then toss in olive oil and add desired spices. Bake in a shallow pan for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Black-eyes peas, lima beans, and navy beans also have great iron content and work really well when cooked in spices and mixed with rice. Kidney beans, a staple in American chili recipes, also have about one-fifth of a day’s iron requirements.

In Conclusion

There's certainly nothing wrong with tempeh or tofu or soybeans or any of the other less common non-animal iron foods. For most people, though, these foods are more widely available and conform better to the American palate. If these foods are not regularly part of your diet, add them in slowly. The easiest way to do that is to add these foods to salad or to mix them with other foods you already enjoy. Greens can be chopped and cooked with scrambled eggs, for example. Beans, nuts, and seeds all can serve as extra ingredients in stews and pasta dishes.

However you try to add iron to your diet, be sure that check with a doctor if you still feel tired or dizzy and have brittle nails or heart palpitations. Some people have trouble with iron absorption, and athletes need more iron than couch potatoes. Either way, expect to see an improvement in fatigue if you add iron consistently to your diet.

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