Iron Dense Food and Their Absorption

iron bioavailability the vegan carrot

Iron from food comes in 2 forms: Heme and Non-Heme.

From Harvard’s T.H Chan School of Public Health Website:

‘Iron from food comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme is found only in animal flesh like meat, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens.

Non-heme iron is also found in animal flesh (as animals consume plant foods with non-heme iron) and fortified foods.’

Since you’re here for plant-based resources, let’s look at non-heme iron and how to make the best out of it.

What are good sources of non-heme iron? According to Verena Tan, RD, Ph.D., good sources include the following:

  • Fortified cereals, rice, wheat and oats
  • Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Dried fruits like raisins and apricots
  • Beans like lentils and soybeans

Adding to the list from Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health:

  • Dark chocolate (At least 45%)
  • Potato with skin
  • Nuts and seeds

And more from Plant-Based Juniors:

  • Tofu
  • Hummus
  • Sprouted Grain Toast
  • Chickpea Pasta
  • Quinoa

Now, non-heme iron has the reputation of having a lower absorption rate than heme iron.

‘Food contains more non-heme iron and, thus, it makes the larger contribution to the body’s iron pool despite its lower absorption rate of 2% to 20%.’ – ER Monsen, University of Washington

So I have consulted with Plant-Based Juniors to get their advice as far as iron absorption is concerned. The trick would be to combine iron-rich food with vitamin C-rich food at the moment of eating. Some combos include:

(In order, Iron Source + Vitamin C Source)

  • Tofu + Bell peppers
  • Oatmeal + Raspberries
  • Beans + Broccoli
  • Lentils + Tomatoes
  • Spinach + Lemon
  • Quinoa + Sweet Potatoes
  • Pumpkin Seeds + Oranges
  • Prunes + Camu camu berries

And you can find more combo ideas here.

Watch out for iron inhibitors. According to Medical News Today, tea, coffee, peanuts, parsley, chocolate, and calcium-rich food can interfere with iron absorption.

I hope this helps clarify your view on iron as a plant-based eater! Let me know in the comments!