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A balanced diet consisting of equal amounts of vitamins, proteins, minerals and nutrients is essential to maintain a healthy body.
Iron, for example, is one such micronutrient that is important for the production of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Most non-vegetarian foods contain a good amount of iron. However, this doesn't mean that vegetarian foods don't contain iron. This article will discuss the vegetarian foods rich in iron.
Why Is Iron Needed By The Body?
Iron is an essential mineral needed by the body to transport oxygen throughout the body. Insufficient iron in the body results in anaemia which is characterised by fatigue, weakness and the immune system's inability to fight off infections. Iron is also essential for maintaining healthy skin, hair and nails.
There are two forms of iron - heme iron ( meat, egg and seafood) and non-heme iron (plant-based foods)  .
So, if you are a vegetarian, incorporate these vegetarian foods rich in iron into your diet.
Iron Rich Foods for Vegetarians
Lentils are legumes which are filled with iron and also contain a good amount of protein, folate, manganese, complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, potassium and fibre. This makes lentils one of the best iron-rich foods for vegetarians. The health benefits of consuming lentils are they lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes .
- Iron in 100 g lentils - 3.3 mg
The potato is a staple food eaten across many countries. It is known for its versatility because it can be cooked in a number of ways like mashed potatoes, potato soup, baked potatoes, etc.
This starchy vegetable is a good source of iron, dietary fibre, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, magnesium and vitamin B6 . However, people who are trying to lose weight should consume potatoes in limited amounts.
- Iron in 100 g potatoes - 0.8 mg
Seeds like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds and flaxseeds are rich in iron and contain good amounts of fibre, magnesium, zinc, calcium, selenium, antioxidants, plant protein and other plant compounds  . These seeds are also an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids which are essential for heart and brain health  .
- Iron in 100 g pumpkin seeds - 3.3 mg
- Iron in 100 g sesame seeds - 14.6 mg
- Iron in 100 g hemp seeds - 13.33 mg
- Iron in 100 g flaxseeds - 5.7 mg
Nuts and nut butters are another iron-rich plant source containing good amounts of protein, good fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds. Nuts like cashew nuts, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios and macadamia nuts contain a significant amount of iron that will help in increasing haemoglobin count  . These nuts are a very good source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids that prevent the onset of heart disease and lowers blood pressure.
- Iron in 100 g cashew nuts - 6.7 mg
- Iron in 100 g almonds - 3.7 mg
- Iron in 100 g pine nuts - 5.5 mg
- Iron in 100 g pistachios - 3.9 mg
- Iron in 100 g macadamia nuts - 3.7 mg
5. Green leafy vegetables
Vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beetroot, etc., have high non-heme iron content. They are also rich in vitamin C which increases iron absorption in the body , . In addition, eating these vegetables will provide your body with fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Iron in 100 g spinach - 2.7 mg
- Iron in 100 g kale - 1.5 mg
- Iron in 100 g Brussels sprouts - 1.4 mg
- Iron in 100 g beetroot - 0.8 mg
- Iron in 100 g cabbage - 0.5 mg
Tofu is made by coagulating the milk from soybeans. Vegetarians and vegans should consume a lot of tofu because it contains significant amounts of calcium, iron and protein which reduces prostate cancer, breast cancer and heart disease risk, according to a study  . Tofu can be found in different forms like soft, silken and firm and you can either have them grilled or fried.
- Iron in 100 g tofu - 5.4 mg
7. Fortified cereals
Breakfast cereals which include oats, porridge, bran flakes, muesli, whole wheat cereal etc., contain iron. Basically, fortified and low-sugar cereals like oatmeal are considered one of the best iron-rich foods. They are easy to cook and are best suited for vegans and vegetarians. Oats contain soluble fibre called beta-glucan which reduces cholesterol and improves gut health  . However, it is advisable to consume oats in moderate amounts as the high content of phytate inhibits the absorption of iron  .
- Iron in 100 g oatmeal - 6 mg
- Iron in 100 g porridge - 3.7 mg
8. Kidney beans
Kidney beans have high fibre and protein content which make them a healthy food option for vegetarians. Their rich iron content can surely increase your haemoglobin levels and lower the chances of anaemia. Apart from this, kidney beans are excellent sources of fibre, complex carbohydrates, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, folate and other beneficial plant compounds.
- Iron in 100 g kidney beans - 8.2 mg
Amaranth is an ancient gluten-free grain which is a complete source of protein and other essential nutrients like manganese, magnesium, iron, fibre and antioxidants. According to a review study, amaranth grains reduce blood sugar levels, cholesterol, improves immune function and high blood pressure and most importantly, decrease the risk of anaemia .
- Iron in 100 g amaranth - 2.1 mg
Certain varieties of mushrooms contain a high amount of iron. For instance, oyster mushrooms contain up to twice as much as iron as button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and portobello mushrooms  . Mushrooms are low in calories and contain fibre, protein, B vitamins, selenium, copper, potassium and vitamin D. All these help in contributing to heart health, lowering blood pressure, strengthening bones, etc.
- Iron in 100 g oyster mushrooms - 1.33 mg
- Iron in 100 g button mushrooms - 0.80 mg
- Iron in 100 g shiitake mushrooms - 0.41 mg
- Iron in 100 g portobello mushrooms - 0.31 mg
Quinoa is one of the whole grains which are high in iron and it is also rich in copper, manganese, magnesium, folate and many other nutrients. Quinoa is a perfect food for vegetarians as it is a complete protein source, packed full of fibre, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The study shows that quinoa's antioxidant properties lower the risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes .
- Iron in 100 g quinoa - 4.57 mg
12. Sun-dried tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes are ripe tomatoes which are dried in the sun. They are high in antioxidants like lycopene, vitamins and minerals and most importantly, they are an excellent source of iron too. The antioxidant lycopene is known to lower the risk of cancer and age-related diseases like macular degeneration and cataract.
- Iron in 100 g sun-dried tomatoes - 2.7 mg
How To Increase Iron Absorption From Plant-based Foods
Heme iron found in meat and eggs are easily absorbed by the body as compared to non-heme iron found in plants. So, vegetarians and vegans need to double their iron intake in order to avoid the deficiency of iron.
Here's what you can do to help absorb non-heme iron better:
- Consume vitamin C rich foods along with plant-based foods to help increase the absorption of non-heme iron.
- Soaking sprouts and legumes will improve iron absorption and also will lower the amount of phytates that hinder iron absorption.
- Consuming quinoa and legumes rich in amino acid lysine along with iron-rich foods will help increase iron absorption.
- Avoid drinking coffee and tea with meals as it reduces iron absorption .
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