For those of us trying to choose plant-based sources of protein in order to give the planet a break, it's important to ensure that you get enough iron. Though eating a well balanced vegetarian diet should provide you with ample iron if you eat the right foods.
But whether a vegetarian or not, if you're feeling tired, dizzy, and low on energy or your skin looks pale, you may have iron deficiency anemia. It's a problem that's common in vegans, women who are pregnant, have heavy periods, those that give a lot of blood, and runners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of iron deficiency in the U.S. is about 2 percent in adult men, 9 to 12 percent in non-Hispanic white women, and nearly 20 percent in black and Mexican-American women.
There are two forms of iron in the diet: heme and nonheme. Heme sources are more easily absorbed into the body and they are present in animal sources like meat, poultry, and fish or more accurately, about half the iron is heme iron and the rest is nonheme. Nonheme sources of iron also come from dairy foods, eggs, and plant-based foods. According to Eating Well, iron intake requirements are 1.8 times higher for vegetarians because nonheme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron.
The daily recommendation is 18 mg of iron a day but you may be surprised to learn that you can get 14 mg from ½ cup of pumpkin seeds, 6.2 mg from ½ cup tofu, and 7.4 mg from 3 oz of steamed oysters. Other good sources of iron include sun dried tomatoes at 9 mg per ½ cup, Jerusalem artichokes at 5.4 mg per cup, pine nuts at 9 mg per ½ cup, and sunflower seeds at 6.7 mg per 1/2 cup. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron into the body.