How Can Vegans Get Enough Iron?

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What are the best ways to get in iron on a vegan diet?

A lot of athletes ask if they have to eat meat to get enough iron. The quick answer is no, but it can be a challenge to maintain ideal iron levels for an endurance athlete.  Iron from plant-based sources (non-heme iron) is absorbed at a much lower rate than meat-based sources (heme iron) (about one third the rate of meat sources) in the small intestine.  Here’s what you can do to help to get adequate iron on a plant-based diet.

Use a cast-iron skillet at all meals.

Some studies have shown that cooking with a cast-iron skillet can increase the iron content of the food by up to 40 percent.

Eat vitamin-C-rich foods with your iron.

Time to have some fruit, veggies or fruit juice with your iron sources including supplements.

Separate calcium and iron. 

Save the calcium-rich soy milk for later.  Calcium and iron compete for absorption in the body and eating or supplementing with them together can hinder their effectiveness. Separate calcium and iron consumption by at least an hour of each other to maximize their absorption.

Save the coffee, tea and wine for later.

If eating an iron-rich meal or taking a supplement, separate your coffee, tea and wine consumption by at least an hour.  Those beverages contain tannins that can inhibit iron absorption by up to 90 percent.

 Be conscious of your meal composition.

Because of the decreased absorbability of plant-based sources of iron, it is extra important to pay attention to the composition of your meals and how much iron they contain. Setting meal and snack goals for iron consumption is a good way to help meet daily goals.

What Foods Contain Iron?

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Kylee Van Horn is a licensed Sports Registered Dietitian and competitive trail runner.

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