Plant-based diets are fast replacing traditional meals across the UK. While a plant diet has many potential health benefits, getting enough protein and iron as a vegetarian or vegan, is not as hard as it’s imagined, as long as the iron is obtained from a variety of plant sources. Iron is necessary for many cellular functions in the body. Not having enough iron, can cause iron deficiency and anaemia, symptoms of which are fatigue, pale skin, irritability, low appetite, and feelings of light-headedness.
Types of iron and their digest-ability
There are essentially two kinds of iron: heme and non-heme. The former is derived from animal products, while the latter comes from plant-based foods.Heme iron is more bioavailable, which means your body can absorb and use it more efficiently than the non-heme kind. It is estimated that iron absorption in meat eaters is 14 to 18%, whereas iron absorption for vegetarians is 8 to 12%. To compensate for this apparent discrepancy, people consuming plant-based diets would do well to focus on non-heme iron sources. These comprise fortified breakfast cereals and white beans, lentils, spinach, firm tofu, kidney beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, potatoes and cashews. Not all plant foods help iron absorption. Many plant-based foods contain natural phytochemicals that inhibit iron absorption, including beverages like coffee and tea, beans, soy and whole grains. This doesn’t mean that foods having elements that inhibit iron absorption are unhealthy or need to be removed from your diet. You’re still absorbing iron when you eat beans, grains, and fortified cereals, though not quite as much as you would absorb from a heme source. Vitamin C can help increase absorption of non-heme iron. A cup of fresh orange juice at breakfast, will provides a day’s worth of vitamin C and will help you better absorb the iron in any fortified cereal you consume. It’s absolutely possible to get adequate iron without supplements. If you feel otherwise, stacking up on spinach at meal times is another great way to pump up the iron!