25 Iron-Rich Vegetarian Foods
(Plus: 20 Tasty Vegetarian Recipes with High Iron)
If you are on a vegan or vegetarian diet it is as important as ever that you eat quality vegetarian foods with high iron.
The main reason is because iron is among the list of essential nutrients your body needs in order to function properly.
Here are some of the important roles iron plays:
- It is an integral component of Hemoglobin found in red blood cells which function in the transport of oxygen in your bloodstream.
- It helps regulate your body temperature.
- Lack of iron can lead to chronic fatigue.
- It plays a role in maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
- Iron is essential for energy production especially if you have an active lifestyle.
All of those reasons are why it is critical that you make sure you’re getting enough iron to meet your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
How Much Iron Do You Need
The amount of iron you need depends on a number of key factors:
- Your Age
- Level of activity
- Your diet
- and to an extent Your overall health.
Below are the RDAs according to the National Institutes of Health
0 – 6 months: 0.27 mg
7 – 11 months: 11 mg
1 – 3 years old: 7 mg
4 – 8 years old: 10 mg
9 – 13 years old: 8 mg
Boys (14-18 years old): 11 mg
Girls (14-18 years old): 15 mg
19 – 50 years old: 8 mg
> 50 years: 8 mg
19 – 50 years old: 18 mg
> 50 years: 8 mg
Teens: 27 mg
Women: 27 mg
Teens: 10 mg
Women: 9 mg
As you may have noticed, women tend to need more iron than men and even more so during pregnancy.
The NIH fact sheet does give you an idea of how much iron you should be consuming daily but it is also important that you consult with a dietician or doctor to determine the appropriate amounts for you.
As far as vegetarians go, the RDA is about 1.8 times higher than those for non-vegetarians.
The RDA for Vegetarians is higher
The reason for the higher RDA is because plants contain lesser amounts of iron than animal foods and the type of iron found in plants isn’t readily absorbed in the body.
When you understand these differences you can then see why you need vegetarian foods with high iron.
Let’s take a look then at the different types of iron and their interactions in the body.
Non-Heme vs Heme Iron
As mentioned, there are 2 forms of iron you can get depending on your diet.
– Heme iron which is found only animal products.
– Non-Heme iron which is found *primarily in plant-based foods. (You can also find non-heme iron in certain animal products such as milk/dairy & eggs).
Obviously the form of iron I’m referring to for this post is the non-heme iron because that’s the only form found in most vegetarian diets.
The most important thing you need to note is that non-heme iron is NOT easily absorbed in the body compared to heme iron.
That’s why it is imperative that you eat enough vegetarian foods with high iron.
You should also consider mixing in some Vitamin C because it facilitates the absorption of the non-heme iron.
Good news is a lot of the veggie options rich in iron also contain high amounts of Vitamin C.
So it is recommended you combine these foods in your diet to help with easy iron absorption.
Vegetarian Sources of Iron
Here’s a list of a few plant foods that contain good amounts of iron for your body.
Vegetarian Foods with High Iron - GRAINS
1 - Oatmeal
1 cup of oatmeal (234g) contains about 13.9 mg of iron.
Makes for an excellent breakfast meal and a good way to start off your day.
2 - Quinoa
Quinoa is a very nutritious grain that is packed with good carbs (fiber), some protein, vitamins, minerals and plenty of healthy iron.
100g of quinoa contains 1.4 mg of iron.
3 - Brown Rice
Brown rice in most cases has proven to be a healthier option than white rice.
1 cup of cooked, long grain brown rice (195g) contains a healthy dose of macros (51.6g Carbs, 5.53g Protein, 1.96g Fat) and 0.8 mg of iron.
Brown rice is also an excellent option for you if you need a high-fiber diet. (3.2g per 1 cooked cup)
4 - Amaranth Grain
Probably not the first grain that comes to mind for the average person but amaranth is very nutritious and probably tops the list of grains with high iron.
1 cup (193g) contains 14.7 mg of iron.
5 - Teff
The teff grain originates all the way from North Africa (Ethiopia to be specific) and is highly recommended due to its nutritional value.
100g of teff contains 2 mg of iron.
P.S. Despite the fact that most grains are high in iron, they also contain certain substances (phytic acid) that may inhibit iron absorption.
In most cases it is recommended that you soak your grains before preparing them or eating them.
Vegetarian Foods with High Iron - VEGETABLES
6 - Collard Greens
Collard greens are a low calorie, nutrient-rich veggie that can help with a number of healthy roles in the body such as reducing the risk of heart disease and obesity.
They also contain Vitamin C which as I mentioned earlier helps with iron absorption.
100g of raw collards contains 0.5 mg of iron.
7 - Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is part of the beet family and is of course very nutritious.
It contains healthy doses of Vitamin K (about 3X the RDA), can help reduce blood pressure, fight cancer (in part due to chlorophyll) and even help lower blood glucose levels.
100g of Swiss chard contains 1.7 mg of iron.
8 - Spinach
We can safely assume Popeye may have been onto something.
Although it won’t give you any superhuman strength, Spinach does make for a good source of iron and the complimentary Vitamin C to help with absorption.
Also it’s better for you to eat cooked spinach because cooking it helps break down the iron inhibitors to further ease absorption and therefore a higher dose of iron.
100g of cooked spinach contains 3.6 mg of iron compared to 2.7 mg from the raw equivalent.
Nothing wrong with having it raw as part of your salad though.
9 - Baked Potatoes
Imagine how much more delicious a crispy, warm & fluffy baked potato will taste when you know it’s a good source of iron.
I know some people fret over potatoes because of all the starch but they’re a really healthy food source you shouldn’t neglect.
Baked potatoes also contain healthy doses of Vitamin C (iron absorption) and Vitamin B.
1 large baked potato (299g) contains about 3.2 mg of iron.
10 - Parsley
Commonly used as a garnish or to spice up food, parsley is one of those sneaky veggies that actually has quite a few nutritional benefits.
Some include bone health, cancer fighting properties, heart & kidney health and it is rich in antioxidants.
1 cup of chopped parsley (60g) contains 3.5 mg or iron.
Vegetarian Foods with High Iron - LEGUMES
11 - Lentils
Besides the fact that they are a good source of iron, lentils also possess a number of cardiovascular related benefits due to the presence of magnesium and folate.
Magnesium can help minimize the risk of heart attacks.
Folate helps prevent heart disease.
In addition to all of that they also contain good amounts of fiber which can help lower your (bad) cholesterol levels.
1 cup of boiled lentils (198g) contains 6.6 mg of iron.
12 - Lima Beans
Lima beans are also another excellent source of cholesterol lowering fiber.
If you’re on a detox diet then Lima beans are a great option for you because they contain high amounts of molybdenum which can help prevent sulfite side effects such as headaches and disorientation.
1 cup of large, boiled Lima beans (188g) contains 4.5 mg of iron.
13 - White Kidney Beans
White kidney beans aka Cannenelli Beans are another very nutritious food option to include in any vegetarian diet.
It is a healthy protein source and contains good amounts of iron, copper, fiber, folate and magnesium.
They have a short cooking time and just like most other forms of beans they can be included in a wide variety of dishes.
1 cup of cooked white kidney beans (177g) contains about 3.93 mg of iron.
14 - Soybeans
Soybeans ranks really high as some of the world’s healthiest foods.
However much of its nutritional value comes from the way it has been processed.
In most cases it’s better to stick with the (organic) whole food forms.
It is obviously another protein-rich food and has numerous health benefits.
Of note it is completely cholesterol free.
1 cup of raw soybeans (186g) contains 29.2 mg of iron.
15 - Tofu
Tofu aka Bean curd comes from condensed soybean and is what you’d consider a meat substitute.
It is a very popular option for most vegetarians because of its high nutritional value.
A 100g serving of tofu contains 8.1g protein, 4.2g fats, 0.7g carbs and 5.4 mg of iron.
Vegetarian Foods with High Iron - NUTS & SEEDS
16 - Sesame Seeds
Is it just me or does Big bird come to mind?
Anyway distractions aside, sesame seeds are one of the oldest foods on earth but they are still ever so popular in the nutritional world.
This is largely due to their incredible amount of health benefits.
These tiny seeds also come packed with a lot of iron.
1 cup alone (144g) contains 21 mg of iron.
17 - Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are not only great as part of a vegetarian diet but also for anyone who wants to maximize the amount of nutrients they consume.
Besides iron they’re rich in Magnesium, Zinc, Vitamin K, and Phosphorus to name a few.
They can help with a number of key roles in the body such as:
- Prostate and bladder health
- They’re high in antioxidants
- Can reduce your blood glucose levels
- Better heart health
Long story short they’re good for you.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are tastier and also contain a higher amount of iron than raw ones.
9.5 mg of iron in 1 cup (118g) of roasted pumpkin seeds.
18 - Flaxseed
Flaxseeds are one of the best sources of Omega-3 for any vegan.
Omega 3 is an essential nutrient which unfortunately isn’t produced by the body so it must be obtained from your diet.
You can blend flaxseed into your smoothies, mix them in your healthy dessert recipes or even make them a part of your morning meals in yogurts or oatmeal.
1 tablespoon of whole flaxseed (10.3g) contains 0.6 mg of iron.
19 - Cashews
Cashews are a nice complement to any vegetarian diet.
They’re a tasty snack and contain good amounts of healthy unsaturated fat.
Unlike what we saw with the pumpkin seeds, raw cashews contain a little bit more iron than roasted cashews.
100g of raw cashews contains 6.7 mg of iron.
100g of oil roasted cashews contains 6.1 mg of iron.
20 - Sunflower Seeds
A handful of sunflower seeds can go a long way in helping you meet your iron RDA.
It is obviously a very healthy snack (in moderation) and one that you can easily come across on a daily basis.
Another key nutritional benefit of sunflower seeds is they contain lots of fiber (12g in 1 cup).
The debate is up in the air about which is healthier – roasted or raw?
My suggestion is you go for the one that you actually enjoy or try mixing in both.
Really both options are healthy for you but the dried non roasted seeds contain more iron.
1 cup dried, non roasted contains 7.4 mg of iron.
1 cup dry roasted contains 4.9 mg of iron.
Vegetarian Foods with High Iron - FRUITS
21 - Dried Apricots
Most dry fruits such as dates, prunes or raisins are excellent sources of iron.
Dried apricots are no exception.
100g of dried apricots contains 2.7 mg of iron.
Keep in mind you need consume most dried fruits in consideration to avoid increased sugar levels.
22 - Watermelon
A surprise addition to the list.
Watermelon is an excellent thirst quencher but not many people are aware it is also a great source of iron.
It is really an amazing fruit with so many other health benefits especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
1 cup of diced watermelon (152g) contains 0.4 mg of iron.
I’m sure you won’t eat an entire watermelon in one sitting but just for reference an average whole melon contains about 10.8 mg of iron.
23 - Mulberries
They may be tiny in nature but these fruits possess an incredible amount of health benefits.
Mulberries can help with weight loss, regulate blood sugar levels, fight cancer, liver and heart health just to name a few.
Needless to say your body will love you for eating these.
1 cup (140g) contains 2.6 mg of iron.
24 - Tamarind
Probably not a staple in the average diet but this tropical fruit is best known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
It can be eaten raw or used for a variety of recipes including desserts, flavoring food, jellies to name a few.
1 cup of tamarind nectar (250g) contains about 1.9 mg of iron.
25 - Blueberries
Blueberries are some of the top cancer fighting fruits, they’re rich in nutrients, help with blood pressure and regulate your cholesterol levels.
They’re also considered an antioxidant superfood.
You have so many different options when it comes to eating your blueberries.
1 cup (148g) contains 0.4 mg of iron.
**Important note about fruits**
Fruits alone are technically not vegetarian foods with high iron.
The important reason why you need them is because of the Vitamin C content which I’ve stressed is very important to help with easier iron absorption.
So that sums up the list of some of the best vegetarian foods with high iron.
It is always a good idea to include a mix of these different options as part of your diet to help make sure you meet your Recommended Daily Allowance of iron.
And besides just your iron requirements we’ve also seen some of the other health benefits those foods possess so it’s really a win-win for you.
What we’ll take a look at next is a roundup of 30 vegetarian food recipes with high iron content to help you meet your goals.
20 Vegetarian Recipes with High Iron Content
Everybody needs iron as part of a healthy diet.
Now you understand its importance and why you need vegetarian foods with high iron.
The recipes below all contain decent amounts of iron, are relatively easy to make and are actually very delicious.
1 - Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Fresh Peas and Ricotta
2 - Black Eyed Pea Teriyaki Bowl
3 - Moroccan Chickpea Sweet Potato Stew
4 - Mushroom Lentil Burger
5 - Spiced Carrot & Lentil soup
6 - Vegan Spinach & Ricotta Cannelloni
8 - Stuffed Potato Skins
9 - Creamy Pumpkin Seed Alfredo with Kale & Sweet Peas
10 - Sofritas Burrito Bowl
11 - Yellow Dal with Quinoa
12 - Stir Fried Asparagus with Bell Peppers and Cashe Nuts
13 - Crispy Satay Tofu with Coconut Rice & Cucumber, Avocado Salad
14 - Maple Tahini Brussel Sprouts Quinoa Bowl
15 - Tamarind Chickpeas
16 - Summer Vegetable Curry
17 - Quinoa Salad with Grilled Halloumi
18 - Ultimate Mediterranean Chopped Salad
19 - Tofu Saag Paneer
20 - Harissa Tofu Over Sesame Sweet Potato Noodles and Kale
There you have it.
25 healthy vegetarian foods with high iron and 20 incredible recipes to help you meet your RDA.
It is important to remember that vegetarians need more iron than non-vegetarians. Almost 2 times as much.
Plant-based foods contain non-heme iron which isn’t readily absorbed in the body so adding foods with Vit. C will go a long way.
It is not impossible to get iron from a plant-based diet.
You just need to be conscious about what you’re eating.
Got any more ideas on vegetarian foods with high iron? Please share in the comments section below