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Meat Free Diet and Iron

By: Corinna Underwood - Updated: 1 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Iron Vegan Vegetarian Haemoglobin Tannic

Probably the most important of iron's functions in our bodies is the production of haemoglobin and myoglobin (the form of haemoglobin found in muscle tissue. Iron is the mineral found in the largest amounts in the blood. It is essential for many enzymes, and is important for growth, a healthy immune system and for energy production. Iron deficiency is mostly caused by insufficient iron intake, though it can be caused by intestinal bleeding, heavy menstrual periods, poor digestion, or high intake of tea and coffee. Its symptoms include fatigue, damaged nails, inflammation of the mouth, brittle hair, slow mental reactions, pale skin and difficulty swallowing.

The Importance of Iron for Vegans and Vegetarians

Iron intake is an important issue for vegans and vegetarians. There are two types of iron available from food sources, haem iron, which comes from meat sources and non-heme iron from plant sources. The standard iron requirement is 15mg daily but you must remember that iron from food is not easily absorbed. In fact, most of the iron you consume never gets into your bloodstream; only between 2-20% of non-haem iron gets absorbed. You shouldn't worry too must about making calculations because RDAs and ODAs (Optimal daily amounts), take this into account. Because iron I stored in the body, excessive intake can also cause problems. Too must iron in the tissues and organs leads to production of free radicals and increases the need for vitamin E. For this reason you should carefully regulate daily intake of iron supplements.

How Much Iron do You Need?

The amount of iron your body needs depends on a number of things; how much iron you consume what form it takes and how much you have stored. Iron absorption is inhibited by oxalic acid- found in spinach and chocolate, phytic acid- found in bran and legumes, and tannins- found in tea, and polyphenols- found in coffee. However consuming foods containing vitamin C along with iron rich sources will enhance absorption. Fruit and vegetables such as red and green C bell peppers, broccoli, baked potato with skin; raw tomato, grapefruit, strawberries, mango and orange all contain vitamin.

Tannic acid -found in tea and wine- has been shown to reduce the absorption of non-haem iron by as much as half. In addition, phytates, which are found in whole grains, and calcium may also reduce iron absorption.

The following shows a range of meatless sources of iron and their content:

  • 1 cup fortified breakfast cereal - 4.5 to 18 mg
  • 1oz pumpkin seeds - 4.25 mg
  • ½ cup bran - 3.5 mg
  • 1 tablespoon black strap molasses - 3.5 mg
  • ½ cup soybean nuts - 4 mg
  • ½ cup boiled spinach - 3.2 mg
  • ½ cup cooked red kidney beans - 2.6 mg
  • ½ cup cooked lima beans - 2.5 mg
  • ¾ cup prune juice - 1.3 mg
  • ½ cup pretzels - 1.2 mg
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread - 0.9 mg
  • 1 large egg yolk - 0.7 mg
  • 1/3 cup seedless raisins - 1.1 mg
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter - 0.6 mg
  • Dried apricots - 0.6 mg
  • 1 slice white bread with enriched flour - 0.7 mg

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