Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian-Sources of Iron for Vegetarians

Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian-Sources of Iron for Vegetarians (Non Heme Iron)

This article is dedicated to Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian. Since Vegetariandon’tt consume meat so the major source of iron (that is meat as believed) is missing from their diet. This can lead to anemia that is- decrease hemoglobin levels in the body. Here I have given detailed information on Sources of Iron for Vegetarians (Non Heme Iron) that are commonly available. Vegetarians can suffer from Iron Deficiency Anemia if iron-rich foods are not consumed on regular basis.

Sources of Iron for Vegetarians
Sources of Iron for Vegetarians

Importance of Iron

Iron is the essential element in our body. Iron present in very Large amount. Iron is a part of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin makes a red blood cell. The red blood cell is produced in the bone marrow, while in childhood it is produced in the spleen. Hemoglobin where the (iron is the main component) function to transfer oxygen in our body. Iron deficiency can cause a problem. Without a healthy red blood cell, your body cannot properly work Special brain.  Iron also important for hair and skin. With the increase in age, the iron requirement will be increased. If quality sources of iron-rich foods are not consumed on regular basis, it can lead to Iron Deficiency Anemia. Read here about Signs of Malnutrition.

Increased Iron requirements in different medical conditions

Iron requirement of women is greater than the man. Women requirement is increased because they lose the blood every month during menstruation cycle.  Iron is the basic component for the proper function of our body. To avoid Iron Deficiency Anemia, individuals who encounter conditions listed below must use good sources of iron.

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding
  • Have kidney failure
  • Have an ulcer
  • Have had a weight loss surgery
  • Vegetarian and vegan should take the iron supplement because the body does not absorb the type of iron that comes from plant and animals sources.


  • Vegetarian does not eat meat fish or sometimes other animal product especially for moral religious and health basis.
  • Vegan does not use meat and animal product. They restrict only plant food
  • It is commonly thought that the vegetarian and vegan have low iron. Additionally, concern has thought that the lower availability of iron from plant sources because having the presence of the inhibitor of phytate acid.

The presence of the iron compound is the important component of the vegetarian diet. Less than 40 percent of the iron in meat poultry and fish in heme form that absorbs the non-heme iron from the other sources. There are two types. Heme iron and non-heme iron. Non-heme iron comes from plant sources and heme iron contains animals sources. The non-vegetarian diet that contains a large amount of iron compound that also contains a heme iron.  Otherwise, the vegetarian diet contains a non-heme iron. Read here about Foods Rich in Vitamin A.

Heme iron is better absorbed than the non-heme iron. Both forms are absorbed in inverse logarithm proportion in body iron store. Heme iron can account for nearly half of the iron absorbed with moderate iron store consuming moderate to the liberal amount of red meat. Non-heme iron help to absorbed heme iron in people with low body iron store. Generally less well absorbed non-heme iron in the vegetarian diet is more responsive then heme iron.

Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian

Although the composition of the vegetarian diet can vary as well as non-vegetarian diet.

Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian
Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian

For many vegetarian, the elimination of meat may be accomplished by increased consumption of dried beans and legumes fruits and vegetables and other product. Such diet choices can substantially alter the dietary component that enhances the solubility and absorption of non-heme iron. Non-heme iron absorption is inhibited by phytic acid present in cereals legumes nuts. (Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian)

Sources of Iron for Vegetarians- Non Heme Iron

The iron component consists of two parts. heme and non-heme. Animal sources which contain almost 40 percent iron and 60 percent non-heme iron.

Non Heme Iron
Non Heme Iron

Heme iron covers the part of total iron in a meat only 10-15 percent because is absorption is more uniform they contribute the iron absorption iby40 percent. Nonheme iron comes from cereals, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans, nuts, and seed. About 40 percent iron comes from meat and 60 percent comes from plants sources. Many countries even they have non-vegetarian most iron comes from plant sources rather than the animal product. Iron-fortified cereals come that fulfill the need of iron in a body.  Read here about Calcium-Containing Foods.

Here is the complete list of Sources of Iron for Vegetarians along with calories. Use these on daily basis to avoid Iron Deficiency Anemia.

Sundried tomatoes5.6 mg
Cashew nuts   5.0 mg
Iron fortified bread 7.1 mg
Dried apricot   3.1 mg
Dried dates  2.6 mg
Mixed grain bread roll  4.7 mg
Figs1.4 mg
Lamb chopped grill    2.9 mg
Eggs, whole boiled        1.6 mg
Cheese cheddar0.2 mg
Whole Milk0.04 mg

Other Sources of Iron for Vegetarians (Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian)

  • Oyster
  • White beans
  • lentils
  • dark chocolate
  • chickpea
  • baked potatoes
  • cashews
  • spinach
  • raisins

Iron Absorption

Iron comes from the mixed diet is 18 percent while it comes from the plant sources are 10 percent. Iron absorption estimate comes from the single meal or short term. Single meal does not means that the adaptation of intestine of absorption and loses. The main function of iron absorption is linked with the ferritin level.  Our concern has non-heme iron bioavailability, enhancer and absorption is not more important but the iron status is more important than the bioavailability.

zinc bioavailability from the vegetarian diet

Zinc is also the main component of the human body. Its main function is to help absorption of iron in the body. Zinc almost comes from the animals’ sources and only half quarter comes from the beef. The planning of zinc amount is the same as a vegetarian and non-vegetarian, but its main focus on nuts, legumes, and whole grain. The main problem is that the vegetarian diet only based on the plant sources so the amount of zinc is less than the non-vegetarian diet. So it is overcome to focus on the plant sources which have high in zinc sources. These plant sources are nuts, legumes and seed. Phytic acid are also present which isthe inhibitor of zinc availability. Zinc availability is enhanced by dietary protein.

Plant sources which rich in protein also have a phytic acid as an inhibitor of zinc. The different group of the vegetarian contain different amount of zinc. If we give a dietary planning of vegetarian people the replacement of meat to give a carbohydrate. Carbohydrate reduces the zinc absorb in proportion to reduce zinc content in the diet. If we give a fortified meat to the vegan and vegetarian people, low meat and others minerals also reduce the absorption of zinc due to increase quantity of minerals. Read here about Causes of Obesity.

The new studies have shown that vegetarian people required almost 50 percent zinc to the non-vegetarian diet.

vegetarian and vegan at the risk of Iron Deficiency Anemia

Vegetarian and vegan diet contains as much as iron from the mixed diet. According to survey show that the vegetarian diet has no prefer the low and average intake but they also prefer the iron status and iron dietary compound. if compare the vegetarian people to the meat eater people, the ferritin level is very low in a vegetarian people, even they have an adequate intake of iron from the plant sources.  Vegetarian have reduced the risk of iron level because they take the iron absorption enhancer of Vit c from the plant sources.

Iron deficiency occurs when the level of hemoglobin is decreased. Different studied show that different result. Some study has shown that both vegetarian and non-vegetarian has the equal amount of iron level and hemoglobin. The western study has shown that there is a little difference between the two groups but a large number of studies have shown that vegetarians have a great risk of the iron store due to low ferritin level. Iron-rich foods should be used on daily basis and it will help to avoid Iron Deficiency Anemia. Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian diet must be carefully accessed for better results.

Health effect of vegetarian and vegan diet

American Association has exposed a dietary planning for all the life cycle such as infancy, adolescence, children and young.  Compared with the vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet which show a great difference between their nutrients, they must consume vitamin B 12 so they should have less risk of anemia. Vegetarian show different body weight. The BMI of vegetarian and non-vegetarian is very different. the difference is due to the dietary fiber and protein intake. Most studies have shown that the vegan people have low body weight but not in vegetarian and meat they intake.

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The vegetarian diet has a great number of cereals, grain, fatty acid carbohydrate, c99arotenoids, folic acid vitamin c, vitamin e and Mg. they have the low intake of Ca and vitamin b12. This dietary intake shows a healthy and unhealthy effect on the human health. That component which is low intake has a good benefit on the human health. Plant food provides the αlinoleic acid but they are taken from the 3 fatty acids EPA DHA. But the dairy product and eggs have the low amount of EPA DHA but its value change according to the animal feeding.

Recently studies have shown that the plasma level of EPA DHA in the vegan diet is low but they have in stable condition. αLinoleic is converted into fatty acid to EPA DHA. But its amount is very low in females and very low in males. EPA DHA has a low level in a plasma of vegetarian show health effect on the human being. If they give to the supplement of PEA DHA, the level of plasma level will be increased but platelets aggregation will be decreased. So that the CVD risk factor will be increased.

Vitamin B12 are the sources of animal product and eggs. But the vegetarian diet contains only plant product so they could not eat the proper amount of vitamin B 12. So the plasma level of vegetarian is low than the meat eaters. Vegetarian eaters

Stroke is due to the high blood pressure; recent studies have shown that the vegetarian has the greater risk of high blood pressure then the non-vegetarian.

The bone health is also important in the vegetarian diet many studies take interest to collect the data of calcium in the vegetarian population. Ca is very important for the human being, Ca intake of the lacto vegetarian is similar to the non-vegetarian diet but the calcium quantity is increased in the vegan diet.

Vegan people consume a rich amount of ca rich diet such as green leafy vegetables. one study has shown that it is beneficial the meat is absence in the vegetarian people but they have the controversial effect but it is not clear overall. Early study has shown that there is not difference effect on bone in vegetarian and non-vegetarian but many researches have shown that there is a great difference in the bone fracture in vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet

Mortality rate is also depending upon the health.  The death rate in the vegetarian diet is low as compared toa non-vegetarian diet. Death rate is low because they are eating are the sources of plants. Mortality rate if compared with other countries such as England and wales, the vegetarian people is low.

Iron metabolism

Normal human male contains 3-5g of iron, often less than in females and of this 2-3 third is in circulating red cell as hemoglobin and 15-25 percent in storage in ferritin and hemosiderin. The remaining iron in muscle myoglobin and in cytochrome and iron containing enzymes. Plasma transferring account for 3 mg Fe but the daily exchange of iron through plasma transferring is ten times this amount. Transferring therefore plays the important role in iron distribution. Iron delivery by transferring to erythroid and many non-erythroid cells involve the interaction of transferring with specific receptor followed by endocytosis and recycling of Apo transferring and receptor.

These receptors are present in the low amount on phagocytosis cell which receive their iron from degraded red cell hemoglobin. In the case of hepatocytes, it has been proposed that iron is replaced by reduction at plasma membrane rather than receptor mediated endocytosis. Under the pathological condition, the amount of iron not bound to transferring may become important.

The major site of iron storage is the liver, spleen and bone marrow. Muscle is also quantatively important because of its large mass, although the actual concentration of storage iron is low.

Ferritin can be seen by electron microscopy as a tiny dense particle dispersed in the cytosol. Hemosiderin may also visualizeby electron microscopy. Together with some ferritin, it is bound by some membrane bound bodyor slide type derived from the secondary lysosome

Ferritin molecule

The ferritin molecule is a protein which is a hallow shell. It is composed of 24 polypeptide chain shell in which capable of storing up to 4500iron atoms. Is comes from many sources such as man, horse, sheep, chicken, mouse. It consists of complete and partial amino acid sequences. Ferritin are located in the cytoplasm and also present in blood plasma. Different species store ferritin in different places. Different sequences of amino acid ferritin are present in the different body. H and L sequences are present in different mammalian. Much ferritin structure is present in it.

The main function of ferritin molecule is to absorb iron in the body as a heme part. Iron bind to the ferritin molecule in a different place and different structure.

Level of iron deficiency

  • Increase dose
  • Early function iron deficiency
  • Iron deficiency anemia

Iron Deficiency Anemia in Vegetarians-Signs

Iron deficiency limit oxygen supply, weakness, fatigue, low immunity, shortness of breath, sensitivity to cold, heart palpitation. Iron deficiency which occur in pregnant women causes results in premature birth, low birth weight and mortality. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency problem all over the world. About 25 percent of population occur in this disease especially women and children. But it occurs in those people which is restricted in their diet. In a developing country, it is due to a limited food supply. In Australia, it occurs most commonly in young and obese people who follow a high energy diet to lose weight. Iron deficiency not only caused by low intake but also a many medical treatments such as dialysis.

Dialysis in which chronic renal failure which commonly loss of iron, gastrointestinal diseases, gastrointestinal blood loss may also occur the deficiency of iron. Excessive intake of zinc (due to supplement) may also reduce the iron absorption. vegetarian and vegan diet have iron deficiency. Because the vegetarian diet has the lower bioavailability of iron due to plant sources.  Plant sources contain a dietary inhibitor such as phytate which cannot absorb iron in the body as compared to animal sources.

Iron store

In the vegetarian diet that contains the non heme iron absorbed according to the need of the body. In vegetarian, which iron intake is low adapted to excreting less faecal ferritin. Non-heme iron and heme iron store in the people which has the very low iron store. So, there is no advantage of the very low quantity of iron store. It is important to maintain the level of ferritin level in the body which is necessary to absorb iron in the body as heme part or non heme part. Read here about Vitamin B12 Foods.

Heme and non-heme iron are absorbing in the intestine in the different procedure. Heme iron is absorb in gut according to the the need. Non-heme iron is controlled, and it is more readily absorb, when the body has need of iron. So, the body has the limited mechanism of excreting urine, loss of hair, menstruation, shedding skin, and also affect the cell of the mucosal wall in the intestine and urinary system.

Bioavailability of iron, inhibitor enhancing

Non-heme iron bioavailability is influenced by various dietary intake that either enhance or inhibit the iron absorption. The people which has the low intake of iron, the efficiency of non heme iron affect the inhibiting and influence the food constituent which they eat. Although inhibiting and enhancer may cancel each other out, particularly in a diet which contain a great variety of food. Read here about  Vitamin E Foods.

Vitamin C is the supplement which increases the absorption of iron in the body. Vit c more work in those people who have low iron store. The main inhibitor in non-heme iron is phytate, or phytic acid which is present in legumes, cereals and un processed bran. When we process the whole grain its   removes most of the phytate and also some beneficial component such as iron and zinc. It’s all process occur in the vegetarian diet. Phytic acid has also a benefit .it act as an anti-oxidant which prevent the cancer and other chronic dieses.  Many components are present in plant food which inhibit the non-heme iron absorption, such as oxalic acid and poly phenol. Many other inhibitors are oxalic acid and calcium. Oxalic acid which is present in spinach, bitter root, may inhibit the iron absorption. Also, calcium act as an inhibitor of heme and non-heme iron. Read here about Vitamin C Foods.

The significant enhancer of iron absorption is Vitamin c both dietary or supplement. It reduces the effect of phytic acid and polyphenol, calcium and milk product. Absorption is increased when we take 50mg daily in a meal. The best form of iron absorb is fe2+. Vit c change the fe3+ to fe2+ which is best absorbed in the body. Vegetarian get vit c from the fruits and vegetable. Its consuming amount is very high. Other organic acid and vit A and B enhance the absorption of non-heme iron. Erythroid acid is a derivative of ascorbic acid also influence the absorption of non-heme iron. Vegetarian diet which exclude the meat, which also absorb the non-heme iron but they take more animal product to inhibit the absorption of iron. Soy protein also show the inhibitory effect.

Advantages of Iron Rich Foods Vegetarian

Use these foods on daily basis and stay healthy. Iron rich foods helps to avoid Iron Deficiency Anemia.

  • it’s a better weight control
  • potential health benefit
  • an increase in antioxidant
  • good life style choices
  • full energy all time
  • reduce cancer
  • reduce diabetes

Final Words

well planned studies show that the vegetarian diet contains a non-heme iron from the plant sources. Iron deficiency anemia are no more likely as compared to non-vegetarian. The main factor which depends only on the ferritin level and makes a difference between vegetarian and non-vegetarian. because ferritin absorbs iron in the human body.  vit c which is present in the vegetarian diet which facilitates the iron absorption.

About the Author:

My name is Anam Zahra. A student of BS in Human Nutrition and Dietetics.  In this article, I explain the iron diet for vegetarian and vegan. The main purpose to clear that the concept of iron absorption in vegetarian who takes only plant source iron. I hope it will help readers of Nutrition Lab.

 “From the bitterness of disease, man learn the sweetness of health”.   

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