Top 10 High Iron Foods for Vegetarians and Vegans

Iron is an essential nutrient primarily needed for transport of oxygen throughout the body. A deficiency of iron leads to weakness and anemia, commonly called iron-deficiency anemia. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may take time to develop and include anxiety, irritability, hair loss, and depression. Iron deficiency anemia is difficult to diagnose and requires a blood test.

Iron is more bio-available in heme (meat) sources that from non-heme (plant sources), as such, vegans and vegetarians are often concerned about their iron status and intake. The Institute of Health practically doubles the recommended daily allowances of iron for vegetarians from 11mg to 20mg of iron per day for adults. The daily value (%DV) seen on most food labels also takes vegetarians into account and is set at 18mg per day. This amount of iron is a good goal for almost all individuals, except pregnant women, who should consume 27mg per day.

The good news is that the less iron you have the more your body will absorb, boosting the bioavailability of iron from all sources. Vitamin C found in plant foods also boosts iron absorption. The bad news is that nutrients like polyphenols in plant foods can block iron absorption. For information, see the section on iron absorption.

Vegetarian and vegan sources of iron include beans, lentils, tofu, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, whole grains, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, pumpkin, squash, and salad greens. Eating a wide variety of these foods should ensure you get the 18mg daily value for iron. Below are the top 10 vegetarian and vegan iron food sources ranked by common serving size, for more, see the extended list of less common iron foods, and the article on fruits and vegetables high in iron.

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High Iron Foods for Vegetarians and Vegans

Dried Apricots1. Dried Fruit (Apricots)
1 cup (119g)200 calories (63g)100g
42% DV (8mg)22% DV (4mg)35% DV (6mg)
Other fruit high in iron (%DV per cup): Peaches (36%), Prunes (26%), Figs (17%), Raisins (17%), and Apples (7%). Note: Dried fruit is high in sugar and calories.
Complete Nutrition Facts.
White Beans2. Beans and Lentils (White Beans)
1 cup (179g)200 calories (144g)100g
37% DV (7mg)30% DV (5mg)21% DV (4mg)
Other Beans High in Iron (%DV per cup cooked): Soybeans (49%), Lentils (37%), Kidney beans (29%), Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas) (26%), and Lima beans (25%), Navy (24%), Black Beans (Frijoles Negros) (20%), Pinto (20%), and Black-eyed Peas (20%).
Complete Nutrition Facts.
A Bowl of Spinach3. Dark Leafy Greens (Spinach)
1 cup (180g)200 calories (870g)100g
36% DV (6mg)172% DV (31mg)20% DV (4mg)
Other Greens High in Iron (%DV per cup): Cooked Swiss Chard (22%), Cooked Turnip Greens (16%), Raw Kale (6%), and Raw Beet Greens (5%).
Complete Nutrition Facts.
Dark chocolate squares4. Dark Chocolate
1oz square (29g)200 calories (31g)100g
28% DV (5mg)30% DV (5mg)97% DV (17mg)
1 cup of cocoa powder provides 66% DV. A 1.5oz (44g) candy chocolate bar provides 6% DV.
Complete Nutrition Facts.
A bowl of quinoa5. Whole Grains (Quinoa)
1 cup (185g)200 calories (167g)100g
15% DV (3mg)14% DV (2mg)8% DV (1mg)
Other Grains High in Iron (%DV per cup cooked): Oatmeal (12%), Barley (12%), Rice (11%), Bulgur (10%), Buckwheat (7%), and Millet (6%). Bran from whole grains can harm absorption of iron supplements, while whole grains are a good source of iron, they should not be consumed with iron supplements.
Complete Nutrition Facts.
White button mushrooms6. White Button Mushrooms
1 cup (156g)200 calories (714g)100g
15% DV (3mg)69% DV (12mg)10% DV (2mg)
Other Mushrooms High in Iron (%DV per cup sliced): Morels (45% DV), Oyster (6% DV), Shiitake (3% DV).
Complete Nutrition Facts.
Squash and Pumpkin Seeds7. Squash and Pumpkin Seeds
1oz handful (28g)200 calories (36g)100g
14% DV (3mg)18% DV (3mg)49% DV (9mg)
Other Nuts and Seeds High in Iron (%DV per ounce (28g)): Sesame (23%), Sunflower (11%), and Flax (9%), Cashews (9%), Pine nuts (9%), Hazelnuts (7%), Peanuts (7%), Almonds (7%), Pistachios (7%), and Macadamia (6%).
Complete Nutrition Facts.
An acorn squash8. Acorn Squash
1 cup (205g)200 calories (357g)100g
11% DV (2mg)18% DV (3mg)5% DV (1mg)
Pumpkin provides 7% DV per cup, most other winter squash provide 6% DV per cup.
Complete Nutrition Facts.
Stalks of leeks9. Leeks
1 stalk (89g)200 calories (328g)100g
10% DV (2mg)38% DV (7mg)12% DV (2mg)
Scallions (Spring Onions) are also high in Iron with (2% DV) per onion.
Complete Nutrition Facts.
Cashews10. Nuts (Cashews)
1oz handful (28g)200 calories (35g)100g
9% DV (2mg)12% DV (2mg)33% DV (6mg)
Other Nuts High in Iron (%DV per ounce (28g)): Pine nuts(9%), Hazelnuts (7%), Peanuts (7%), Almonds (7%), Pistachios (7%), and Macadamia (6%).
Complete Nutrition Facts.
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Vegetarian and vegan sources of iron include beans, lentils, tofu, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, whole grains, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, pumpkin, squash, and salad greens.
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What affects iron absorption?

How much iron do you need?

The daily value (%DV) for iron is set at 18mg per day. Most adults only need 8-18mg, however, vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume 15-32mg per day.

Click each heading below for more information from HealthAliciousNess.com

#1 Fortified Cereals109% DV (20mg) in 3/4 cup (29g)243% DV (44mg) in 200 calories (65g)
#2 Artichokes28% DV (5mg) in 1 cup (150g)52% DV (9mg) in 200 calories (274g)
#3 Hearts of Palm25% DV (5mg) in 1 cup (146g)124% DV (22mg) in 200 calories (714g)
#4 Soy Protein Isolate23% DV (4mg) in 1oz (28g)48% DV (9mg) in 200 calories (60g)
#5 Dried Thyme19% DV (3mg) in 1 tblsp (3g)498% DV (90mg) in 200 calories (72g)
#6 Jute (Molokhiya)15% DV (3mg) in 1 cup (87g)94% DV (17mg) in 200 calories (541g)
#7 Green Peas14% DV (2mg) in 1 cup (160g)20% DV (4mg) in 200 calories (238g)
#8 Pumpkin Leaves13% DV (2mg) in 1 cup (71g)169% DV (30mg) in 200 calories (952g)
#9 Tempeh12% DV (2mg) in 100 grams (100g)12% DV (2mg) in 200 calories (103g)
#10 Spirulina (Dried Seaweed)11% DV (2mg) in 1 tblsp (7g)109% DV (20mg) in 200 calories (69g)
#11 Dried Gogi Berries11% DV (2mg) in 5 tbsp (28g)22% DV (4mg) in 200 calories (57g)
#12 Tofu10% DV (2mg) in 1/5 Block (91g)27% DV (5mg) in 200 calories (241g)
#13 Whole Wheat Bread6% DV (1mg) in 1 slice (43g)11% DV (2mg) in 200 calories (76g)
#14 Molasses5% DV (1mg) in 1 tbsp (20g)18% DV (3mg) in 200 calories (69g)
#15 Sorghum Syrup4% DV (1mg) in 1 tbsp (21g)15% DV (3mg) in 200 calories (69g)

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Data Sources and References

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28.
  2. Office of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet: Iron
  3. Hallberg L, Rossander L. Effect of different drinks on the absorption of non-heme iron from composite meals. Hum Nutr Appl Nutr. 1982 Apr;36(2):116-23.
  4. Richard F. Hurrell, Manju Reddy, and James D. Cook. Inhibition of non-haem iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages. British Journal of Nutrition (1999), 81, 289-295
  5. National Library of Medicine Fact Sheet on Taking Iron Supplements.