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How to Get Enough Iron in your Vegetarian Diet

Updated on April 14, 2012
Loma Linda University Vegetarian Food Pyramid
Loma Linda University Vegetarian Food Pyramid | Source

Variety & Moderation is Key

No matter what type of diet you follow, it is important to eat a variety of nutritious foods to maintain a well-balanced and healthy body.

One of the concerns that many vegetarians and vegans may have is how to get enough iron in their diet. If you have any concerns about the amount of iron you intake, or lack there of, this article will offer some helpful tips to incorporate more iron-packed foods into your daily food consumption.

The Importance of Iron in Your Diet

Iron is an essential mineral that aids in the formation of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout our bodies. Iron also plays a crucial role in our immune function and energy levels.

Tasty Vegetarian & Iron Rich Foods

Whole Grains

  • Wheat Germ
    3.5 oz contains 6.26mg of iron
  • Oats
    3.5 oz contains 5mg of iron
  • Barley
    3.5 oz contains 2.5mg of iron
  • Brown rice
    1 cup of cooked brown rice contains 0.82 mg of iron
    Recipe to Try: Vegetarian Stirfry
  • Quinoa
    1 cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.76 mg of iron
    Recipe to Try: Quiche with Quinoa Crust

Beans, Pulses, Legumes

Buying beans in bulk saves money and the earth by reducing the amount of packaging. For more information, check out my hub on How to Cook Dried Beans.

Leafy Green Vegetables

  • Spinach
    1 cup cooked contains 6.43mg of iron
  • Swiss Chard
    1 cup cooked contains 3.96mg of iron
  • Collard Greens
    1 cup cooked contains 2.20mg of iron

Leafy greens taste delicious sauteed in a bit of olive oil and minced garlic. Or try adding them to your favorite quiche recipe.


  • Hemp Seeds
    2 tablespoons contain 5mg of iron
  • Sesame Seeds
    1/4 cup contains 5.24mg of iron
    Tip: Add variety to your stir-fry dinner by sprinkling on sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
    1/4 cup contains 2.84mg of iron
  • Chia Seeds
    3.5 oz contains 16.4 mg of iron
    More Info: How to Use Chia Seeds for Health

Miscellaneous Vegetarian Foods High in Iron

  • Blackstrap Molasses
    2 teaspoons contain 2.39mg of iron
  • Dried Apricots
    5 pieces (halves) contain .8mg of iron
  • Raisins
    1 cup contains 2.1mg of iron
  • Avocado
    1 whole avocado contains approximately 1.1-1.7mg of iron
  • Parsley
    2 tablespoons contain .47mg of iron

The Role of Vitamin C

Did you know our bodies cannot fully absorb iron from vegetables unless vitamin C is ingested in the same meal? It's true!

Adding raw citrus fruit, such as oranges, lemons, or grapefruit to your meal, can help maximize the amount of iron your body can intake. Another simple way to add vitamin C to your dinner is a side salad containing raw, leafy greens.

Do you regulary cook with a cast iron pan/skillet?

See results

Cooking with a Cast-Iron Pan/Skillet

  • Cast-iron cookware releases small amounts of iron into the dish being prepared.
  • Seasoned pans are protected from rust and create a non-stick surface.
  • Acidic, high moisture foods, such as applesauce & spaghetti sauce absorb the most iron from this method.
  • Due to risks of iron toxicity, children under 3 should not be served food cooked in cast-iron cookware.

Recommended Daily Doses of Iron by the USDA

Gender, Age (in years)
Recommended Daily Allowance
Toddler, 1-3
Child, 4-8
Adolescent, 9-13
Female, 14-18
Male, 14-18
Female, 19-50
Male, 19-50
Female, 51+
Male, 51+
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (Released 1/31/11) by the United States Department of Agriculture. For more information visit

Signs & Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

  • Unexplained fatigue or lack of energy
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Brittle nails or hair loss

The symptoms listed above can be a sign of many things. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns before taking dietary supplements, especially iron.

Health Risk Tip: Too much iron can cause iron toxicity.

True/False Iron Quiz

view quiz statistics

Video: Iron Rich Smoothie - Healthy Breakfast Recipe

More Vegetarian Hubs by Veggie-Mom

Refried Bean Burrito Recipe: A Vegetarian Family Dinner in Under 20 Minutes
This is my weekly go to meal for nights I just don't feel like cooking, but still want to serve my family a tasty and healthy vegetarian dinner.

3 Fantastic & Healthy Snacks Under 120 Calories
Finding tasty snacks when your trying to watch your caloric intake can be difficult. Here are three of my top favorite guilty-free treats.

How to Make Refried Beans in the Crockpot
Super easy, set it and forget it slow cooker recipe for making refried beans. Make a big batch and freeze for later use.


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    • CharronsChatter profile image

      Karen Robiscoe 

      5 years ago from California

      Eating smart is what it is all about...vegetarians can be every bit as fortified--and more so--than our red meat eating counterparts. I love greens, too! Great post and very useful...:)

    • Marieta Naidenova profile image

      Marieta Naidenova 

      6 years ago

      This is a great and informative hub! Voted up, useful and interesting!

    • vegetarianceleste profile image


      6 years ago from San Fransisco

      Great hub - I tweeted this to all my vegetarian followers!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      6 years ago from UK

      This is very useful as both my daughters and I are vegetarian. I knew some of this already, e.g. about vitamin C and mostly which foods had iron, but didn’t know the quantities and find this hub very reassuring. For instance, my girls love molasses and I knew there was iron in it, but had no idea it was so much. Also my father has cancer and needs to eat an iron rich diet and although he’s not vegetarian this will be very helpful for advising him on what to eat.

      Thanks for the hub.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Excellent information! We were complete vegetarians for many years, and then gradually added a few things. I learned a lot about ways to incorporate protein and iron during those years; I thunk this sort of information is helpful for everyone - especially if we ever have food shortages.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • wayseeker profile image


      6 years ago from Colorado


      I love how easy this is to read. With lots of bullet lists and charts of information, this would be a very user-friendly guide that would require minimal time investment on my part and provide me with loads of useful details. Love the layout!


    • Nare Anthony profile image

      Nare Gevorgyan 

      6 years ago

      This is really awesome! Very well presented, thanks!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice hub veggie-mom! It is interesting a residue of iron is released into the food for additional iron consumption! Thanks for the information.

    • adjkp25 profile image


      6 years ago from Northern California

      I have thought for years that my wife was borderline anemic so I am going to email this to her because she is not a big meat eater. Maybe she can add some of your ideas to her diet.

    • poowool5 profile image


      6 years ago from here in my house

      Good hub, veggie-mom, easy to read and well-laid out, with great info. I'm not vegetarian but I eat all these things anyway, so that must be good, right? :)

    • Global-Chica profile image


      6 years ago from New York, NY

      This is really interesting and useful. Voted up and useful!

    • veggie-mom profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks everyone for your great feedback! I'm glad you have found the information helpful.

      @Roxanne, I appreciate the reminder about your hub on Chia seeds and just added a link to it under the iron rich seeds section.

      @Allie & Horatio, yes balance & variety is definitely a necessity in every diet, not just vegetarians

      @Robie, I wasn't aware about the need for vitamin C until I started doing some research, but happy to know about it now.

    • Mmargie1966 profile image


      6 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      Excellent and informative hub! Voted up and interesting!

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Very interesting and useful. I did not know you needed to assume vitamin C in the same meal to absorb the iron! Thanks for sharing! :)

    • Horatio Plot profile image

      Horatio Plot 

      6 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

      Hello veggie-mom

      I never really get much beyond spinach when I think about iron. It just goes to show. As you say variety is the key.


    • alliemacb profile image


      6 years ago from Scotland

      This is really useful. My daughter has just decided to become a vegetarian and I needed to know how to mantain a good nutritional balance for her. Thanks for the great tips. Voted up.

    • roxanne459 profile image

      Roxanne Lewis 

      6 years ago from Washington

      Very informative! I had no idea about some of these so thank you for educating me. Oats, brown rice, molasses, parsley.. who knew? Don't forget the Chia Seeds though. :) Voted Up and Useful

    • Eliminate Cancer profile image

      Eliminate Cancer 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Really interesting hub - I think the only thing preventing me from being Vegan is that there are some days when my iron plummets - this is great info!!

      Do you have any info. on uncooked greens? Is it different than the cooked info you provided? I often eat spinach or other greens like kale, raw - and I always feel so much better after eating them.


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