A common idea that vegetarians or vegans are at risk for iron deficiency comes from the misconception that meat, poultry and seafood are better sources of iron. In reality, meatless options like white beans, chickpeas, dark chocolate and tofu contain more iron per serving than chicken and beef.
Many foods naturally contain iron, so healthy people usually get enough from their diet. Iron helps with several metabolic tasks, including the proper function of hemoglobin, the component in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to our tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.
Boost absorption of plant sources of iron with food rich in Vitamin C. My favorite combos are black beans and mango; lentils, spinach and tomatoes; and tofu with broccoli and bell peppers. Vegan and vegetarian diets tend to be high in Vitamin C from increased fruit and vegetable intake, providing for appropriate iron absorption.
Certain nutrients compete with absorption of iron from plant sources, so try to enjoy tannins (types of polyphenols found in coffee and tea) separately from meatless meals with iron. Today’s Spinach and Bean Soup recipe combines iron-rich beans and spinach with Vitamin C-rich tomatoes to maximize iron absorption.
- 1 tbsp., extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion (chopped)
- 2 cloves fresh garlic (minced)
- 14.5 oz. can, no-added-salt diced tomatoes
- 2.5 cups, low-sodium vegetable broth or water
- 16 oz. can, navy beans, chickpeas or pinto beans (rinsed and drained)
- ¼ tsp., pepper
- 1 tsp., cumin
- 1 tsp., oregano
- 4 cups, fresh spinach (chopped)
- Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes or until onion becomes translucent.
- Add tomatoes, broth or water, beans, pepper, cumin and oregano and bring to a boil.
- Simmer soup for about 20 minutes, then stir in spinach and cook until wilted. Serve warm.
Recipe adapted from the American Heart Association.