Vegan health: Iron

I am Iron Man…dodo dodo dodo do do do dooo….


Iron intake is a huge concern for many. After all, red meat is red for a reason. If you’re wondering, the red colour isn’t actually from blood, it’s from a protein called myoglobin, which binds iron and helps transport oxygen to muscle cells. So, when you bite into that steak, you’re mainly munching on muscle fibres. That may seem normal to you if you’re a meat eater, but it seems very wrong to me that anyone should have a craving for muscle fibres. Does that not sound completely psychopathic to anyone else?

That’s why instead of muscle fibres for breakfast, I enjoy vegetables. You know? Those things that don’t scream for mercy when you pluck them out of the ground?

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Now I don’t intend to tell only half the story, so let me quickly break this down for you. Iron from food comes in two types: heme and non-heme iron. Animal foods, such as red meat, contain around 40% heme iron (60% non heme), which is bound to animal proteins. Whereas plants contain 100% non heme iron. It is true that heme iron is more bioavailable (is absorbed better) than non heme iron. Therefore, it is recommended by the Medical Journal of Australia, that vegetarians and vegans consume 1.8 x the RDI of iron.  They also state however, that with a balanced diet, there is no more risk of being iron deficient as a non meat eater. In any case, vitamin C should be consumed alongside iron rich foods, as it aids in it’s absorption, working to counteract negative effects of the plant compound phytate.

What the fuck is phytate?

I thought you’d never ask.

The reason iron in plant foods is less bioavailable, is due to this compound, phytate. It’s bound up in the hull (outer coat) of grains and seeds and is essential for their germination. This compound, while not so great for our absorption of iron, is thought to have protective or even preventative effects on cancers . Unlike animal iron sources (such as red meat), which are thought to have the opposite effect.

Foods/Drinks that interfere with iron absorption

  Iron RDI (x 1.8)

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Top 10 vegan sources of iron (per 100g)

  1. Dark chocolate  – 17mg
  2. Weetbix – 14mg (other fortified cereals, between 14-17mg)
  3. Liquorice  – 8.8mg
  4. Pistachios – 7mg
  5. Cashews – 6.1mg
  6. Almonds & hazelnuts – 4mg
  7. White beans & lentils – 3.7mg
  8. Dried prunes – 3.9
  9. Quinoa – 3.5mg
  10. Dates – 3mg

11. Tofu – 2.7 ( it needed an honourable mention)

Well, that seems like a pretty good line-up, I mean I don’t think too many of us are complaining about that dark chocolate.

But mum! I’m trying to get my iron in!

Not before dinner!

Can you guess where your beef or lamb fits into that list? Beef would tie 9th with quinoa, and lamb wouldn’t even make the cut. Not even if I included tofu!

Another thing I should mention is that 100g of one thing is a lot (eg. baby spinach) and very little of something else (eg. beans). So, if you’re going to be eating beans, 3.7mg may not seem like a lot of iron, but if you can imagine eating a can of beans (usually around 400g) that’s already 14.8mg. Combine that with some nuts through the day, and some sneaky dark chocolate for dessert, and you’re almost there!

I’ve just spotted some dark Easter Eggs I haven’t yet polished off, so excuse me while I get my snack on…

xx R








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