What is Iron?
Iron is an essential mineral indispensable to the functioning of the human body. As a component of hemoglobin, it takes part in the production of erythrocytes (red blood cells), thus making our blood red.
Iron in Your Diet – What it does?
Iron as hemoglobin, transports oxygenated blood through the system ensuring our tissues and muscles receive ample amounts of vital nutrients. The iron which is not used for the synthesis of hemoglobin is stored as ferritin (storage protein for iron).
Iron deficiency causes anemia – a lack of red blood cells and can be detrimental to our health, as well as the condition of our skin, hair and nails.
Heme and Non-heme Iron
There are two types of iron:
- Heme Iron – constitutes the majority or iron found in animal product (approx.60%). Around 15-35% of heme iron is easily utilised by the body
- Non-heme Iron – plant foods contain only non-heme iron, which isn’t absorbed as efficiently as its heme counterpart – 2-20% of non-heme iron is efficiently utilised
Get Enough Iron on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
Despite the widespread notion that vegetarians are at a higher risk of developing iron defciency, studies* prove that it is not the case. Even though non-heme iron is said to have a significantly lower absorbtion rate than its meat-derived counterpart, the fact that a plant-based diet is abundant in vitamin C, which triple the bioavailability of iron, can easily even out that disproportion.
Since vitamin B12 also plays an important role in making the most of our iron supplies, a vegan diet is slightly more difficult to balance. My way of getting around that is eating vegan + eggs – only free-range and organic, of course;)
“In fact, the bioavailability of iron can vary up to 10-fold in the same foods, depending on the other foods that are eaten with the meal (Hallberg 2000). Although the iron content of vegan meals may be similar to non-vegan meals, there will likely be less iron available for absorption in the vegan meal because of chemical differences inherent to the iron found in these non-meat sources.”**
If you want to find out about all the factors that influence iron absorbtion, read my article on Iron Absorbtion
Daily Recommended Dietary Allowance
- 8 mg for men
- 18 mg for women (blood loss, like during menstruation causes a drop in iron levels)
Pregnant women require higher amounts.
While in some cases, supplements are needed to deal with serious mineral deficiencies. It is always best to strive for a balanced diet, that will provide all the necessary nutrients without making you dependent on artificial substitutes.
To learn about natural souces of iron, please check 20+ Iron Rich Vegan Foods
* Haddad EH, Berk LS, Kettering JD, Hubbard RW, Peters WR. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70(suppl):586S-93S.
Obeid R, Geisel J, Schorr H, et al. The impact of vegetarianism on some haematological parameters. Eur J Haematol. 2002;69:275-9.
** Source VegKitchen.com