One question that often comes up when people find out we don’t eat red meat and poultry is, “Where do you get your iron from if you don’t eat meat?”
While we can’t disagree that red meat is one of the biggest sources of iron, many people don’t realize that there are a huge variety of plants and fish that provide abundant sources of iron for vegetarians and pescetarians alike.
But before we get to the grand list…
Why Your Body Needs Iron
One of the most important functions of iron is to help your red blood cells carry oxygen to all your cells and tissues.
A lack of iron may result in fatigue, pale skin and dizziness, just to name a few.
Let’s look at what the Recommended Daily Allowance for iron in children and adults is:
- Children 4 to 8: 10 milligrams
- Children 9 to 13: 8 milligrams
- Women 19 to 50: 18 milligrams
- Men 19 to 50: 8 milligrams
For pregnant and lactating women the amounts differ so please keep this in mind if it applies to you:
- Pregnant women: 27 milligrams
- Lactating women: 10 milligrams
The Different Types of Iron:
Heme vs Non-Heme
First, let me explain the difference between heme iron and non-heme iron.
Heme iron is found in red meat, poultry, and fish and is easily absorbed by the body.
The disadvantages of heme iron is that it is stored in the body, meaning it is possible to get too much in if, for example, you eat a steak a few times a week.
Non-heme iron is found in plant sources such as leafy greens and while this type of iron is not as easily absorbed when paired with some citrus fruit or some meat (in our case fish!) it is more readily absorbed by the body.
The advantage of non-heme iron is that you can eat as much as you’d like because your body excretes the excess.
Now, before you worry that as a pescetarian you might be getting in too much iron, relax! The highest iron levels are found in chicken liver and pork liver and the levels are much lower in fish and seafood. If you do eat fish, be mindful of eating wild-caught vs farmed.
To make sure you are getting in enough iron as a pescetarian, make sure to include these 10 foods in your diet on a regular basis:
Best Dietary Sources of Iron For Vegetarians and Pescetarians
Oysters seem to be something you either absolutely love or absolutely hate. It’s good news for you, though, if you are an oyster lover, because just 6 medium oysters provide you with 5 mg of iron!
A ¾ cup of clams will provide you with about 3 mg of iron.
Aim for eight juicy shrimp at your next fishy seafood meal to obtain 1.3 mg of iron.
4. Canned Salmon or Tuna
A regular 6 ounce serving of these canned fish provide 10% of the RDA of iron. Check out our fishy recipes to make the most out of your canned fish!
A six-ounce cod fillet provides about 0.8 mg of iron. Drizzle with some lemon juice to improve absorption.
A six-ounce serving of flounder provides about 0.6 mg of iron. To amp up the iron add some sautéed spinach and drizzle with some lemon or lime.
All leafy greens provide good amounts of iron, but spinach is the winner by far! Spinach provides you with 6.43 mg of iron per one cup of cooked spinach. That’s impressive! Raw spinach in a salad or as part of a smoothie is an excellent source of iron but keep in mind that cooking spinach will increase iron absorption.
Beans are a staple in meat-free diets as they provide that meaty flavour without the meat of course! 1 cup of cooked black beans, for example, provide you with 3.6 mg of iron and one cup of cooked kidney beans provides about 3.9 mg of iron. Other beans high in iron include chickpeas, white beans, and lentils.
9. Nuts and Seeds
Lucky for you, we love cashew butter and all kinds of nuts! You are sure to find many vegan desserts made with one of our favourite nut butters in our recipe section. Cashews take the lead when it comes to iron as just one cup provides you with a whopping 8.22 mg! Almonds take second place at 5.32 mg per cup. And don’t forget to snack on pumpkin seeds which pack 2 mg of iron per cup.
10. Whole Grains
Don’t worry if you are gluten-free, there are many gluten-free grains that will still provide you with iron. Some examples are oats, rice, and quinoa. Just one cup of quinoa provides you with 2.76 mg of iron.
Hopefully this helped you solve the mystery of how vegetarians and pescetarians get their iron fill. We add new recipes each week, may of which will help you reach your daily recommended iron intake.
Out of the above list of iron-rich foods, tell us, which is your favourite, and how do you like to enjoy it?