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  • As a new vegetarian (since January) it is always helpful to me to have reliable sources of info and articles like this. One of the reasons I went vegetarian was for my health, and I want to make sure I am doing it the right way. Thank you for this and keep these articles coming!

      1. Oxalates are water soluble. When you cook spinach it breaks down some of the oxalates but it also pulls a lot of them out into the liquid as the leaves are reduced.

    1. I am below normal in Iron for the last 3 years if not 6. I noticed it after I had my first child 2008 years ago when my hair started falling out long after the normal post pregnant shedding. I test positive for ANA w/ no other symptoms, & am very low on the “normal” scale for thyroid. I have been diary free last 15 years and red meet free 10, and pescetarian only the last year and a half w/ eggs. I eat green smoothies for breakfast w/ kale, spinach, orange juice, flax, berries, 1/2 banana. Lunch/dinner is eggs, lentils, beans, rice, salsa, soups, raw veggies, apples, seasonal fruit, cabbage, potatoes, occasional tofu, mushrooms, eggplant, & fish. We mainly use cast Ion pans. I take an 18mg iron supplement every few days w/ a stools softener, otherwise even w/ a liquid meal once a day I might not have a movement for the day.
      Dr. says because I don’t have skin discoloration or bald spots, my thinning hair (1/2 volume of before babies) is “normal hair loss” & I could take supplements if I wanted.

      1. You may be malabsorbed so you are not getting the minerals from the food.
        Also for hair loss – seaweed – esp kelp, and dulse , nori are excellent, also green drinks as in juices – celery, greens, that type of thing. Kelp helps the thyroid which affects the hair loss and calcium utilisation. this us typical story after pregnancy to lose ones hair because you are giving everything to the baby as nature favours the baby when you are pregnant not you, so minerals can be lost from your bones , connective tissue- which is why prolapses are common during or post pregnancy, and hair.
        However its no use just taking these foods – because first you have to detox your gut so that you can restart the absorbtion AND utilisation in the body. Detox yourself with a fruit diet – All the best,

        1. So since last I had my iron checked again and it went from 23 to 18 (below normal, anemic). So then my Dr. Agrees with me and says I should take (2) 65mm iron sulferus pills a day and get tested every 3 months. I’ve gone in twice and my level is at 54, out of a range of 23-300. Not middle yet. But! The curl in my hair is back to normal just working on volume.
          I read recently if your iron level isn’t right for you, there will be loss no matter what. Your hair has a 5-6 year life expectancy and if your iron levels aren’t in the right place for you it cuts its life in half. Hope that helps someone else.

          1. 1. you might be sensitive to wheat, which can cause all the problems you mentioned.
            2. try liquid natural iron supplement. works better then the pills.
            3. avoid tofu and any soybeans products! especially if you have hormonal issues it’s really bad.
            4. hair loss is related to calcium. find good resources for calcium. like almonds. check for vitamin D deficiency.
            5. I should be a doctor 🙂

          2. Rebecca, I’m interested in your update. I’m suffering from hair loss for years now. I’m also vegetarian so it seems to me there are not so many choices of iron rich foods. Please, I’m looking for any advice

        2. Hair loss is a classic sign of Hypothyroidism. Get labs but not just TSH, Drs draw their conclusion on this Pituitary hormone. The test must include Free T3 and Free T4.. T3 needs to be in upper level and T4 in the middle. Tsh is almost worthless in diagnosing. Also start on Natural Thyroid, not Synthetic.

          1. I’m sorry Lili, I don’t think you should be a doctor. Unfortunately the points you make do not apply to everyone. Liquid iron supplements do work better for me, but not for others I know. There has been so much research showing that tofu and soybean products do not affect your hormonal levels in any way (www.nutritionfacts.org) so blanket statements like that can be dangerous. I would not be as healthy a vegan as I am without tofu and tempeh, not to mention they can be delicious!
            …and finally hair loss is not always related to calcium. I can be yes, but another blindly made blanket statement. I’m not a confrontational person I swear, and I’m sure your comment comes from a good place, but nutrition is not so black and white for everyone. Some things work for some and not for others. There are hundreds of factors to consider before giving someone sound advice. Let’s be a little more careful please.

      2. HAVE YOUR DOCTOR CHECK YOUR FERRITIN LEVELS! I, too, suffered greatly. The symptom that I complained about was hair loss. My ob/gyn tested me for anemia, said I was “normal” & also quipped that I was “too pink to be anemic!” Well, 9 months later, I got my tired self to a dermatologist to look further into my thinning hair problem. She immediately asked if I was anemic. I said the ob/gyn said “no.” She asked if she had checked my ferritin levels (the amount of iron that your body stores) & proceeded to test my blood. When the results came back, I was DANGEROUSLY low! Normal is 40-60; my reading was 8!!! So, I researched & found a gynecologist recommended iron supplement (by Dr. Christiane Northrup) that was readily absorbed & did not cause uncomfortable side effects (i.e., constipation). Took the pills religiously for about a year & afterwards my levels were in a very healthy range! Turns out, my ob/gyn should have realized that my body had just not been able to ever “catch up” with all of the blood loss from my 4 or 5 years of menoraghia (extremely heavy periods), so it depleted my iron stores to an incredibly dangerous level. I don’t mean to bore you with this explanation, but it was a very big deal to me & if my story helps even one other reader to recover, then I will feel that my time typing this was not wasted!

        1. Hi Mary P.! Thank you for your post! I have just read your great comment because I am having the same low FERRITIN level as you are: 8! I feel tired all the time and also short at breath and after trying with more veggies I have realized that I still have to find out the right amount and what veggies to eat to be able to live without iron supplements. Does not work yet with me! Please tell me the liquid iron-brand you are taking.
          I am from Europe and various doctors keep prescribing to me the same- sugar coated pink pills incl. foliate: 256,30mg iron part and 0,35mg foliate part: “TARDYFERON-
          FOL.” Thanks for your answer in advance!!! Gerta Hofer

          1. Has anyone responded to liquids for iron absorption? I’m anemic very low ferritin going to a hematologist this Tuesday. I ve been on liquid chlorophyll Es and 1x made by natures sunshine I bought at a health foods store but you can also buy online. I m no specialist so you would need to ask a health foods store for exact amounts. Best of luck!

        2. Sounds like myself my ferritin levels are extremely low at a 10 and i feel off balance light headed. But yet all my lab’s are fine except my Ferritin levels. So i been taking something called Hemeplex from a health food store. Hopefully i can get my ferritin levels up.

        3. Hi Gerta,
          I ran into the same problem! I have had hair loss for the past 6-7 years and I am not a big fan of meat so I usually have a vegetarian diet albeit a poor one that I’m working on improving. My PCP told me I was just a little low on iron but nothing to worry about even though I do feel tired and have low energy most of the time plus my hair loss had severely depressed me. I finally went to an endocrinologist who ran a ferritin test as well and my levels came back as an 8 as well! I haven’t heard back from my doctor yet but am waiting to see what supplement he recommends. I am going to try much harder to improve my diet as well. What supplement was recommended by your physician?

      3. When I was pregnant the only way I could get my iron up-after some research Adel David! Was taking 6 foliate pills. It worked,so I didn’t have to have an iv while in labor.

      4. Maybe cut out the eggs at mealtimes and just have them as a snack in between. They can inhibit iron absorption so even though your diet is great, there maybe some aspects to it that are not allowing your body to properly absorb the iron rich foods you’re eating.

      5. Stop eating eggs and fish and switch to a vegan diet. I promise you will feel better and might even be able to stop taking that iron supplement! 🙂

        1. This is great advice and definitely one of the first things everyone should try in the first instance to cure any ailment they have. The analogy I like to use is that if your car isn’t running properly, check that you haven’t put sand in the petrol tank!

      6. Low Iron absolutely can cause thyroid issues, ADHD, mood swings and a a host of other issues. I would schedule an Iron IV. If your ferritin is very low, you can still get one even if you have normal hemaglobin, MCV, MCH and saturation. The key is not to talk to your regular doctor but a hematologist. Regular doctors, for the most part, have minimal nutrition training and do not understand Ferritin being as important. Hematologists do understand that when your stores of Ferritin are under 30, you will lose hair. I lost half of mine and I do have a absorption issue, but it effected my thyroid, moods and hair. It is a good idea to get checked for your intestinal absorption, but also, chronic anemia can be a symptom of a disease. Our bodies are smart.If you have something going on (ex: cancer) often your body will cause a lack of absorption to keep the cells from multiplying by making the oxygen environment in your blood less than ideal. I guess the short version is to please go see a hematologist. They can tell if it is anemia of chronic disease or you are just deficient with the lab work. Blessings!

        1. This is a very good response. If you have dangerously low ferritin levels there is generally a cause – in my case a stomach ulcer. I was so low I was at risk of heart failure and was straining for breath. One week after a massive intravenous dose of ferritin I feel back to normal. Solve the cause and your body doesn’t have to struggle to catch up on iron levels.

      7. I’ve been iron deficient anemic for 10 years? now and taken many iron supplements but only one has worked. It’s called Iron Glyinate and it is gentler form of the ferrous iron with no upset stomach, constipation, bad things. I buy mine at Vitamin World and take two a day every morning but I need to get it checked again since I’ve been more tired than usual lately and my hair won’t stop falling out every time I shower. Best of luck to you

        1. Hi Kate,
          I didn’t realize the hair loss could be an iron deficiency! I was thinking thyroid but all was good on those levels. My doctor says extreme anemia but I even had it prior to going vegan almost a year ago. Thanks for the feedback! I know I need a recheck myself on iron levels. Best of luck!

      8. You might try adding some Selenium also since your thyroid is on the lower end. The hair thinning and loss is very common for hypothyroidism.

      9. If you have an IUD or are taking hormonal birth control, that may be a hair loss reason. I lost so much hair starting 6 months after I had an IUD placed. I talked to my Obstetrician about my hair loss and he said it was impossible that it was from the IUD. Unfortunately at the time, I didn’t ask any questions- 2 years later, I lost about half of my hair and I had the IUD removed. 6 months after that, once all the hormone was out of my system, my hair started coming back! In addition to that, I went vegan and have been feeling amazing! Good luck!

        1. IUD’s intrauterine devices should not contain hormones….the very best one is the Copper-7. Nobody likes to give it to you because it lasts a long time (up to 10 yrs) has no hormones, no effect like that. Best contraception ever imho. To compensate when they will give you one they have jacked the price way up.

    2. Iron supplements should not be taken with food. Vitamin c does increase the absorption of many nutrients and is safe to take with iron, but it should be 1 hour before a meal or 2 hours after a meal. Same with calcium. Taking calcium with other vitamins will block them from being absorbed. That is why you will not find calcium in a multi vitamin and need to tak it at a separate time, preferably with vitamin D3 needed for absorption. 🙂 just helpful tips from your army nurse.

      1. Hi, I am confused. This article says to take the iron supplement always with food or juice? I just learned that my Ferrin us 9 and I need to take the iron supplement. But, now not sure with or without food?

    3. I was surprised that while how much iron is absorbed is the key, no mention in the article about
      the vital role b12 plays in determining how much iron is utilized. In fact the biggest factor in
      coming down with pernicious anemia is a lack of b12 rather than a lack of iron. B12 is essential
      for both iron absorption and basic mental functioning and mood. I am a vegan, and I pay
      close attention to the vitamins and minerals I am taking in with my diet, especially b12, and
      vitamin D, which in addition to b12 has a definite impact on health, mood, and depression levels.

      1. Such a great tip for vegans regarding B12. How do you best get your B12? I’ve heard of people getting the B12 shots. Have you tried that, and if so, with what results. I appreciate your info!

  • So this is probably an anomaly – but I am a vegan with HIGH iron. Higher than the normal range. I have seen a doctor about this and was told that it is not due to genetics, etc, but from diet. I am supposed to watch my iron intake for the next month and come back for a re-test. My doc was super vague about how to cut back and basically told me to Google it. If you guys have any suggestions on foods to eliminate/watch out for, a goal I should be shooting for each day, portion sizes of high iron foods or any thing else that you think would help – I would love to hear it!

    1. Really old comment but just in case it helps somebody…taking activated charcoal reduces iron quite dramatically. Definitely worth doing if you have this issue!

    2. Your doctor told you to… google it?!?! Lazy and negligent spring to mind. I would strongly recommend finding another doctor. Nutrition and tuh body is a science. You need medical and professional assistance. I am shocked and disgusted at this behaviour. Any doctor suggesting a patient googles their own treatkent should be struck off..

  • Wow this was a great article. My daughter is a vegetarian and always has low iron. I will make sure she sees this. My dad swears by cast iron pans and I am going to get myself one real soon. Thx for the info.

  • Great post! Training for an ultra marathon I have been able to maintain my iron levels with diet. Thank goodness! Iron supplements really screw up my system. B12…now that is another issue. Luckily though, those vitamins don’t cause as much havoc on my body.

      1. Yeasts are really bad you don’t want them in your diets. They contribute to Candita , fungus and other things., Yeast and molds are the underlying cause of cancer. You don’t want yeasts in your diet. read the book sick and tired by Robert o young.

          1. Hi Mia, that was a gentle rebuke 🙂 I don’t place any credence in the whole”yeastie beasties taking over the world” thing, but I can’t honestly say I don’t have any facts on my side: how did you come to your conclusion? Have you read any particular articles, books, or sites that proved this to be quackery? Or did I just misunderstand you and you just meant that nutritional yeast does not contribute to systemic yeast issues?

        1. nutritional yeast is not your regular yeast, it’s somehow inactivated, I don’t really know the process but it is nutritional and contains B12 which you have to keep in mind if you’re vegan/vegetarian, and it does not feed you candida

          1. Nutritional yeast doesn’t have vitamin b12 naturally. You need to make sure to read the labels and make sure that it has been added.

        2. Indeed Victor, research backs up your claim. Too many people have candida that goes undiagnosed! Had a friend who almost died until a homeopathic doctor diagnosed & treated his candida & saved his life! You are SPOT ON my friend!

      2. Only some types of nutritional yeast are fortified with B12, so be sure to check the labels. Also, many almond milk brands as well as cereals are fortified with it. You usually will need to eat fortified foods OR take supplements, as B12 is not generally found in plant foods.

    1. I had that issue, too. But I increased my sea-vegetable intake and it’s been…delicious! Seaweed paper for veggie sushi, kelp granules to season stir-fries, and miso soup with the seaweed strips. My taste buds had to get used to it at first, but now I love it dearly!

      1. I don’t eat anything from the ocean and I’m new to this type of diet. So I wanted to ask you would seaweed be like fish where you can only eat so much because it absorbs toxins from the ocean?

        1. No, I’ve read that seaweed holds onto any toxins that it may come into contact with and when you consume it, it doesn’t release them, it passes right through you intacked so It is safe to consume. I do believe that the ‘proof is in the pudding’ so to speak, and you should try it to see if it helps you. Obviously if you are buying something like spirulina, you should check the brands ‘Certificate of Analysis’ to see the level of toxins/heavy metals. Big brands will readily be able to give this to you. On the topic of spirulina, it has helped me so much with low iron and debilitating period pain, to the point of fainting/blacking our. If I take 1 teaspoon a day, added to smoothies, I experience no pain whatsoever. I can’t recommend it enough to everyone with low iron levels. Please try it!

  • …and I thought spinach was a good iron source 🙁 Great information and another incentive for me to go vegan! Thanks for sharing!

  • I have been vegetarian for several years and went vegan about 9 months ago. I had struggled with iron deficiency anemia for a few years, and tried pretty much all of the tips Matt offers. I’d tried taking iron supplements but couldn’t tolerate them. Finally, I stopped taking the proton pump inhibitor medication I had been on for GERD for several years (not long after going veg). Within a few months my anemia resolved and I have since been able to donate blood. It really is about the absorption. This is a known side effect of PPI’s but my doctor hadn’t believed that could be the problem. My advice is to keep that in mind if you’re having continuous problems and ruled out low intake. If your symptoms are mild enough or can be controlled another way, it might be worth discussing going off the PPI with your doctor. (Just give it a good few months trial as my blood tests still showed anemia after just 1 month off the drug. )

    1. Women in my family are also prone to anemia. Very important that iron supplements are taken on a full stomach, and never take more than 25-30 mgs. a day. The real problem is that many brands sell these supplement pills in such high doses that taking a whole pill is actually unhealthy. My first go round with the supplements I had the same problem, I would get incredibly sick to my stomach after taking them, but after making adjustments I haven’t had any difficulty tolerating them. I also take a general B vitamin supplement (low dose, of course) and add amino acids to foods when I’m cooking (brewer’s or nutritional yeast). Been keeping up this regime 3 years now and my blood levels are right where they should be. I think being vegan has caused me to be much more aware of what I take and improved my health in general. When I ate meat, I never monitored my daily intake of anything.

      1. Women in general are more susceptible to anemia do to menstruation. That’s why we require more iron in our diet and especially so when pregnant. Don’t see a doctor for nutritional deficiencies, see a registered dietitian. Doctors are only required to take one nutrition course and this is pre-med.

    2. PPI’s = proton pump inhibitors reduce the production of H+ ions in the stomach necessary for changing the oxidation state of iron and facilitating the of absorbing of iron further along the GI tract. I also have been a vegetarian for 24 years with no evidence after the first few months of either B12 or iron deficiency. Also taking 500mg of vitamin C twice daily helps the absorbing of iron along with your green diet. Fresh/cooked kale is another high source of iron. Quinoa is another good source, but purchasing this item causes the cost for Andean Indians quinoa to go up making it economically too expensive for them despite this is the region where it is primarily raised. Andean Indians have the highest level of Iron deficiency in this hemisphere, and the highest incidence of iron deficiency in Latin Americas; too bad because it is not difficult to grow quinoa there.

    3. I am interested to know how you manage your GERD without the PPI? I had the same issue with low frrritin and wondered if it was from the PPI so have switched to an H2 blocker but it doesn’t work as well.

  • Great article! I’ve read some about the subject before, but great to hear an overview. Also, that’s a great point about being vegan instead of vegetarian and increasing iron levels!

  • Thank you for this article. I’ve recently discovered that half of the girls on the high school x-c team are on iron supplements. My daughter is mostly vegan and seems to be fine, she places in the top ten usually, but I’m wondering if I should get her iron checked anyway? Is it true that dairy and soy block iron absorption? I will definitely be buying a cast iron skillet too!

    1. Soy and dairy do not block iron absorption. Even though dairy products have little iron in them but non-dairy products have high iron in it.

    2. The calcium in dairy (and other foods) block the absorption of iron. Many non-dairy milks are fortified with calcium so pay attention to that.

  • This is a great article with valuable information. It always seems to come down to having a varied diet. Variety is key!

  • I’m not a vegetarian but still took some great points from this. I was iron deficient when I was a vegetarian but part of the problem was my gluten intolerance and me not absorbing all the nutrients from foods. When I nixed the gluten and rounded out my diet more me levels came back to normal.

  • A little tip: if you like cooking with a cast iron skillet, try to find an old (pre 1970s) Griswold Skillet, from when they were still made in Erie. I bought one on ebay to replace the modern one I had been using for several years, and it is in another league. Lighter, smoother, holds its seasoning better. They are a bit pricey on ebay, but way worth it. You also might luck into one for almost nothing at a garage sale, since a lot of people no longer use them.

    1. Jody, That is very interesting info about the Griswold Skillet. You said that they hold their seasoning better. Do they hold their seasoning even when used to cook veggies? I found with my cast iron skillet, which is not a Griswold, that if I only use it to fry with and never put foods with a high moisture content, then it keeps it’s seasoning better. However, this article about iron says to cook foods with vitamin C in cast iron. That would probably be tomatoes and other veggies. Any thoughts?

      1. Seems like the 2 biggest things to avoid are tomatoes and boiling water. I stir-fry veggies in my skillet all the time with no problems. The Griswold is really much better than the newer one I used to cook with.

  • Thanks for the information. I have severe iron-deficiency anemia and have to get IV treatments. Regarding the vegan/vegetarian iron differences, calcium can also prevent absorption as can fiber and diet drinks containing artificial sweetners. Processed soy is iffy (it is not good to have processed soy for people with breast cancer or thyroid issues). Any suggestions for how to stomach Blackstrap molasses?

    1. I like a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses in oatmeal. Especially topped with a banana. Or you can just down a tablespoon straight. That’s about all I can handle that way, though. 🙂

    2. My mom used to make molasses milk shakes I got the benefits from the molasses and it tasted really good I’m sure it would be just as tasty with alMonday milk and non dairy ice creams

        1. Your system and pH is over acidic for some other reason( incompatible food,combinations not hydrated not enough sleep too much exercise unhealthy environment not enough alkaline food

    1. You got it backwards What happens with cook spinach is the oxalates change form. this is a negative eat it raw the way nature intended. the minerals change when the food is cooked( inorganic minerals body doesn’t recognize it electrical chargelost life force gone

  • As a vegetarian (nearly-vegan) who struggles to get even 25% of the daily recommended intake of iron, I was shocked to get blood work back recently that showed my iron levels were OFF THE CHARTS (150% of the recommended level with a 300% level of saturation). I believe it’s because my iron sources are plant-based and proves that it’s quality over quantity!

  • Great post and info will passing this to all GO VEG! As a vegan this is helps a lot knowing I don’t need to supplement

  • I have been vegan the past 5 months and recently finished a marathon– I did not do as well as hoped. Legs felt weak and tired. Long story but…. I have also felt lightheaded the past two days. Wondering if its low iron???

    1. Doesn’t hurt to get your blood counts checked, but are you sure you took in enough carbs? I’ve noticed an enormous difference on my long training runs when I get close to the recommended amount vs when I don’t. I’ve been told 30-60 grams/hour of exercise for long runs, shoot for 50 on average, from whatever source. If I stick to that I feel a ton better and recover so much more quickly. If you’re an old hand at distance running and all that is covered, and your training was up to snuff, then I would think it is definitely worth examining the rest of your diet and making sure there are no underlying issues. Good luck!

    2. Oh, also worth noting, I have read that distance running (or probably any intensive athletic endeavor) burns through red cells so you should make sure you get lots of iron afterward. I usually try to make sure I’m getting lots of dark leafy greens and such all the time, but especially after challenging runs.

  • I have never given my iron intake any thought. Thanks for the article, it really opened my eyes to the importance of iron in my diet.

  • I read a while back about distance running causing an iron deficiency…something about the pounding on the feet. Am I remember that wrong? Can you address that? Thanks in advance!

  • I had been a vegetarian for a long time when I went through a volunteer firefighter academy. I struggled with the physical aspects despite being a very active and strong woman. I got my iron levels tested. LOW.
    I tried the spinach route, didn’t do too much. I went back to consuming a little meat now and then.
    Now, I use blackstrap molasses from time to time and, I also use spinach. If you cook your spinach, even lightly, the oxalic acid is not as much of a problem. I believe it becomes something to worry about if you eat huge quantities and eat it raw.
    What have you heard? Thanks for the tips on the cast iron. I think I have one from a passed relative…I need to find it!

  • There is a condition called Hemochromatosis that results in too much iron being absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.
    There are two forms of hemochromatosis: primary and secondary.
    Primary hemochromatosis is usually caused by a specific genetic problem that causes too much iron to be absorbed. When people with this condition have too much iron in their diet, the extra iron is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and builds up in the body tissues, particularly the liver. The result is liver swelling. Primary hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 1 of every 200 to 300 Americans.
    Symptoms are often very simular to iron defiency, so getting tested before taking iron supplements is a good idea.Blood tests may help make the diagnosis. Tests may include:
    Serum ferritin (high)
    Serum iron (high)
    Percentage of transferrin saturation (high)
    If you are diagnosed with hemochromatosis, you should follow a special diet to reduce how much iron is absorbed from your diet. You Should avoid iron pills or vitamins containing iron, vitamin supplements, iron cookware, or fortified processed foods such as 100% iron breakfast cereals.
    Google it for more infomation.

  • Love my cast iron cookware! I was anemic growing up and once I went vegetarian (in my early teens), but haven’t had any issues with iron as a vegan (even through three vegan pregnancies). We use blackstrap molasses as our main sweetener and love the legumes and leafy greens. Great post.

  • Thank you for including the part about spinach. It irks me when it is considered a source high in iron, since it isn’t truly absorbed well. Best to eat other greens for iron, not to dis spinach! It’s great in smoothies too!

  • Actually, the type of calcium and phosphate found in milk bind to iron and prevent its absorption… there’s been some amount of research on this topic, and it seems the most likely cause of vegans having less iron deficiencies than vegetarians.

  • Supplements have worked fine for me. I used to be vehemently opposed to them, but after starting to use them during my pregnancy, I’ve found they do help, and it’s easy. I never have any problem donating blood now, and I used to all the time, even when I ate meat. I think some of the constipation issues aren’t so much a concern if you have a plant based diet.

  • I had a pre-op physical for joint surgery a couple of months ago; my doctor was alarmed because I have a resting heart rate of 48 and I was at the very low end of normal for hematocrit (I’m a 55 year old female). She wouldn’t listen to my explanation that I’m a vegetarian and in very good shape; she wanted an echo prior to anesthesia (gee, normal!) and insists that I need a colonoscopy to assess for blood loss. It’s kind of sad that being somewhat athletic is seen as abnormal…..

  • I was researching iron recently as a reader of my blog was interested. One interesting thing that I found, which you alude to above, is that omnivores are actually at risk of iron overload. In fact iron-overload is on the rise in the US and may even be more prevalent than anemia.
    The good news that a plant based diet doesn’t expose you to the risk of iron overload as non-heme iron uptake is better regulated. You only absorb what you need.

  • GREAT article ! I wonder about liquid Iron supplements ? I had Gastric Bypass a year ago and one of the issues is how I now absorb the nutrients I need from foods. I take a Liquid Iron supplement ( not as regularly as I should. ) This post just reminded me that I need to be more consistent and get my blood work done. Thank you for the great info!

  • I have been a vegetarian for over 8 years, I never used to take iron supplements, then I ended up in the cardiac ICU with a heart rate of 25! I was so anemic that a simple cold virus had taken me down to almost dying. I was in there for 5 days. Please eat greens and try to get iron from food, but at least take a multi vitamin , like prenatal ones for example,with extra iron, you might be saving your life.!

  • My iron tested low when I first went vegan. I bought some organic, unsulphured blackstrap molasses from my local co-op and began taking two to three tablespoons daily. The next time I tested, my levels were fine.
    Elizabeth, I dissolve mine in heated rice milk for a creamy, almost chocolaty drink. Goes down easy that way.

  • I am 18 and have been vegetarian for almost 11 years now. In the last few weeks I have been having terrible faint turns and after a blood test have discovered that my iron levels are very low. I am now taking the iron supplement “Ferrous fumarate”.
    I was hoping someone might be able to give me some idea as to why after 11 years of a healthy vegetarian diet it is only now that my iron levels have gone so low.

    1. Sarah, I’m guessing it’s an absorption issue…definitely don’t know. But what I do know is that you can get iron transfusions (once a week for 4-8 weeks) and should be covered by your insurance. They made me feel so much better vERY quickly. Also, I’ve never had luck with iron pills, but liquid Floradix Iron + Herbs has been quite helpful in the past. Good luck.
      I have never been once to munch on ice, but a few years back, I suddenly couldn’t get enough. I was either crushing it in my blender or hitting up every drive-thru for their small-cubed ice. It turns out that this is a symptom common with anemia. (and yes, my numbers turned out to be very low then.)

      1. Oh my gosh – the ice craving thing has been a curious occurrence for me lately, too. I constantly crave it and love that I can get it anytime (read ‘all-the-time’) from our fridge door. Just had blood drawn last week and got the results today – low iron. I’m a vegetarian. I think I’ll try the blackstrap molasses route for awhile and see how that works; like the idea of warming it up in some nut/soy milk for a pleasant drink.

  • I have been vegetarian for 8 years and mostly vegan for 1 year. My diet is very healthy and includes a variety of fruit, veggies, and grains. However, I was having terrible symptoms this year and was diagnosed with extremely low ferritin levels after a blood test. Despite my healthy diet, I was suffering big time from low iron and now have to supplement. I think everyone should pay close attention to their own body and get regular check ups, and not necessarily think that eating a varied, healthy diet will keep them safe from everything.

  • I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years and there are things in this article I never even knew! Thanks so much for taking the time to write about this. It gave me some good ideas (especially the part about taking half an iron tablet), and it’s good advice for anyone worrying about anemia. So glad I found this!

  • Good info. About a year ago I went (mostly) vegan (I am not always 100% loyal) from previously having a regular omnivorous diet… and comparing my blood labs from a year ago to last week I noticed a big drop in my iron and a small one in my calcium- I eat lots of beans, grains and veggies, so it must be an absorption issue? I do suffer from constant fatigue- but that has always been true so I don’t think its from that change…On the plus side- my Cholesterol also dropped a ton!

  • Dr. Barnard had a new book Power Foods for the Brain. He says that iron from cookware is not good for our bodies. It can oxidize in the body, just like your cast iron skillet gets rusty when it gets wet. He thinks we should cook in stainless steel. I haven’t read the book but I watched him talk about it on tv.

  • Cast Iron Cookware – The Myth
    The truth is that iron comes in a ferrous and a ferric form. Our bodies can not assimilate the iron (ferric) from cast iron cookware. This means that iron from cast iron cookware is not bioavailable and it has no value to our bodies at the cellular level. In fact, it can be very harmful to people who are allergic to heavy metals and it can lead to auto immune problems.
    Bioavailability – The degree and rate at which a substance (as a drug) is absorbed into a living system or is made available at the site of physiological activity.
    What’s the safest cookware? Not Non-stick Cookware
    Nonstick cookware’s advantages don’t include the toxic gases and chemicals that it can release.
    By Vanessa Vadim
    Fri, May 08 2009 at 8:36 PM EST
    1. “Metals carry a heavy burden of resource extraction, processing and manufacturing. Mining is a dirty and destructive process, and the manufacturing of complex, multiple-metal cookware is energy-intensive. In 2004, the metal mining industry was ranked as the nation’s worst toxic polluter by the EPA. Most metals can be recycled, but the mixing of elements (stainless coated copper, for example) can negate that quality. Coatings and nonstick linings break down with use and time, so these pans are short-lived”.

  • Hi Matt, Ive recently had my iron and B12 levels tested as a previous lacto ovo (been vegan for 2day at that stage) and i had 21/30 (very good) iron levels and 637 for my B12 score. Ive run for months and never taken B12 supplement or injection or lozenger. Im hoping with just some Marmite (B12 fortified) and nutritional yeast in the daily/most days diet- that itll be fine without having to supplement additionally 🙂 Cheers,

  • I am a midwife and a vegetarian. I have found that the form of iron supplement makes a big difference in how well it is absorbed and tolerated. Lots of iron pills are ferrous sulfate and they can cause nausea and constipation. Ferrous fumerate or ferrous gluconate are more easily absorbed. Shaklee has a good one that has vitamin C with it. Another good one is Floradix with is more expensive but works really well and quickly. It has herbs with it as well and come in a liquid form which also improves absorption and comes in a pill form if you like that better. The pills are cheaper. I hope this helps someone!

  • Matt I love your Vegan article but you are wrong about cooking in cast iron. Throw the cookware out. Cast Iron Cookware – The Myth The truth is that iron comes in a ferrous and a ferric form. Our bodies can not assimilate the iron (ferric) from cast iron cookware. This means that iron from cast iron cookware is not bioavailable and it has no value to our bodies at the cellular level. In fact, it can be very harmful to people who are allergic to heavy metals and it can lead to auto immune problems. Bioavailability – The degree and rate at which a substance (as a drug) is absorbed into a living system or is made available at the site of physiological activity.

    1. You’re absolutely right The body cannot absorb inorganic minerals They have to be processed through the plant kingdom to become bioavailable All you are taking it is heavy metals which will be stored in your joints causing arthritis and pain

  • I believe in a healthy cooking, healthy eating, a healthy body and a healthy environment. The manufacturing of metal cookware is not healthy for the worker or the environment? Have you ever been to a steel mill or a foundry? I worked for Corning Glass Works for 23 years and I now own my own ceramic company. Food is better for you and tastes better when cooked in ceramics. Plus the manufacturing of ceramic causes no pollution. 100% Ceramic Cookware is changing how America eats – one home at a time.

  • I am so grateful for this article. I can now begin my road to recovery!!!! I suffered for many years with being overly tired. I had blood work done but I was told everything was normal. I don’t blame the doctor’s though, they did their part to assist. But now I can place a name to enigma. Thank you so much!!!

  • This shouldn’t be used as an excuse for people suspecting iron deficiency anemia to see a doctor and have a blood test, though!
    I have had iron deficiency since long before I became vegan. After a year of veganism and supplementation of iron, my deficiency was gone. This was 3 years ago, however, and nowadays I feel okay but am not sure whether my iron levels are high enough.
    A plant-based diet is great, but if a person feels like they may be lacking something, he or she should seek testing. It isn’t always based on diet, as some people just absorb more iron than others.

  • Just posted this on our facebook page! Thank you so much for researching this!! My little 1 year old has low hemoglobin and I am trying to find great foods with Iron in them. This really helped me 🙂

  • I read about an advantage for plant-based iron:
    Another difference between getting iron from plant foods compared to animal foods, is that the body will only absorb iron from plants if it has a need for iron. However, iron from animal foods is always absorbed, so that the body absorbs iron even when it has enough (or too much) iron already. I have read that too much iron can be dangerous too. If so, it is safer to get your iron from plan foods than from animal foods. People who ear large quantities of meat, liver etc might get iron overload.
    Have you heard about this? If true, it could be worth mentioning 🙂

  • *bump*
    Great information! I’m vegetarian (not vegan – yet), and get asked about protein all the time, when what I’m really worried about is iron and B12. I had never had a problem with these two nutrients until I became pregnant, and then became deficient in both. Any recommendations for a pregnant vegan on increasing the intake of these nutrients so I don’t end up deficient again? (currently prego again). Again not yet vegan, just vegetarian, but trying to limit animal products at this stage.

  • Before I was even a vegetarian I had low iron levels and I only knew that from giving blood. Well, I was not always allowed to give blood because my iron levels were too low to give blood. Now I have not given blood in about two years because I would keep trying to give and when they tested it for iron levels they said it was too low to give so I stopped. But now that I eat a great number of the foods that were listed of the foods that are high in iron, I feel as though I should give giving blood another chance because after all it is saving someones life.

  • Thank you for this article. I am a 16 year old female, and recently went vegan about a year ago. I was vegetarian for about a year before that. I noticed my hair thinning about 5 months ago, and went to the doc to get some bloodwork. Come to find out I am low on iron, but not anemic. It’s incredibly strange, I have so much energy, ran 4 miles a day in the summer, but my hair continues to thin. I don’t even notice the hair falling out, it’s just gradually gotten thinner. I follow all of the steps above, I eat a wide variety of vegan food, fet plenty of vit c for absorbtion, and stay away from coffee, tea, and alcohol. I even supplement. My levels have doubled from 12 to 25 in a single month, but my hair continues to thin. Do you think it is just a reaction to my diet change?

    1. H. Pylori bacteria. Read as much as you can about it. It can make your B12 levels as well as iron levels low. Gluten can make it worse. Speaking from experience. Also, taking kelp helps.

    2. Marissa, I was reading that ferritin levels need to be above 40 to see a stop of hair loss. Hopefully you’ve achieved that, since you posted this over a year ago 🙂 But just in case it can help someone else…
      I’m fighting back from severe iron deficiency that left my ferritin levels at 8! I’m at 30 now with 3 months of supplementation with chelated iron (which doesn’t seem to upset my stomach in any way)…can’t wait to get over 40 and have my hair recover!

  • Thanks for the post!! Very useful.
    I was actually concerned with the heme/non-heme issue when changing from vegetarian to vegan a few months ago. I was already aware of the fact that I had to stop with coffee (and tea, BTW) an hour before and after eating: I have a reminder in my all my agendas to mark when I have to stop with the stuff and start again).
    I will have to add spinach to the list, LOL.
    I am so happy to know that vegans are actually less affected by this problem 🙂

  • I came across this article when I was looking for ammunition! My husband thinks I’m doing my body a great disservice by being meat-free – specifically with the issue of iron. So now I have this to back my argument! Thank you 🙂

    1. Tell him to watch the movie “What the Health”…it might initiate further discussion on this. I watch this with my husband, who is an avid meat eater, and he actually said to me…”maybe I will try going Vegan!! I just about flipped out, as he is always telling my daughter she needs to eat meat.

  • Nice article, sure it’s easier to become iron deficient if you go without meat or fish but as long as you eat the right foods you shouldn’t have much of a problem!

  • […] (quinoa, oatmeal), Vegetables (collard greens, swiss chard) are all excellent carriers of iron (Here is a great site by the way dealing with iron for […]

  • VZ 149: The Importance of Iron (and How to Get Enough When You Follow a Plant-Based Diet) - Vegetarian Zen says:

    […] What Every Vegetarian Needs to Know About Iron […]

  • Good article. I do disagree about oxalates based on everything I’ve read. I think we should trust in plants and as long as we’re eating a variety of them, we should be fine. Plus, cooking destroys those acids anyway.
    About the dairy, I also wanted to add that it isn’t just that vegans replace dairy and eggs with plant foods which contain iron, but also that the dairy is fortified with calcium and high calcium intake decreases iron absorption when consumed together. So if someone’s putting calcium rich cheese sauce over their veggies or drinking dairy milk with their salads, it’s going to interfere with iron absorption.
    I also try to avoid wine with meals due to it interfering with certain mineral absorption. And if I take a magnesium supplement once in a while, I always make sure to do so separate from meals as it competes with iron.

  • Good info to add to my research. I am a new vegeterian (lacto-ovo) for moral and health reasons since three weeks ago and take a liquid multivitamin and will supplement soon with an iron supplement. I had little knowledge about how other vitamins assist and interact with other vitamins, specifically the vitamin C and iron absorption. Good to know! May go vegan in the future soon but I love my eggs and cheese so much.

  • I have been a vegetarian since I was five years old. I take a daily vitamin and a 65mg iron pill with vitamin C almost everyday when it doesn’t hurt my stomach. I’ve been exhausted for years and I am slightly above anemia stage from time to time. I recently started donating plasma and get denied off and on. It is never consistent. I focus on nuts, beans and different greens and hate tofu. I incorporate vitamin C and the other tips mentioned above. Any other ideas? Please and thank you!

  • True. The element, iron, that our bodies need…compared to the iron on the skillet…contain identical number of protons. Now, the iron on the skillet may not be die heme Form.

    1. why bother. I have a male relative who will be 103 yrs. in August. HE was in the Olympics in 1936 with Jesse Owens.
      John has raised his vegetables and fruits. He eats eggs bacon berries.grapes for many years. He eats beef,chicken,venison,,and wild salmon and Cod and seafood. He has never had a heart attack, or cancer.He never could drink milk. HE makes Chicken soup almost every week. He had a cold 6 years ago. He always says to KEEP MOVING He fractured his hip at 89 years and healed up so fast the Doctors were amazed. He chopped wood up until a few years ago. He sat outside every day in the sun since his College days. He is on wickeleak John Lysak. I think he is from another planet. We camped with him for 30 years.

  • Eggs, the yolks primarily, do contain iron but the trick with them is the same as with plant sources of iron because their iron is also non-heme.

  • I am fairly new to veganism. And so far, I consider it one of the best thing that happened to me.:) I donate blood regularly before, but several times I was denied to my hemoglobin being low. I came to donate again yesterday ( first time since i transitioned to a plant based diet. My hemoglobin was 13mg/dl! So i guess for me, its working out really well.:)

  • Hi, thanks for the great post. why are tomato Products or tomato paste a good source of iron but not tomatoes by themselves? Or are they? Can someone please explain? I keep finding tomato products listed is good sources of iron on this and other websites. Thank you!

  • How is it when you have passed menopause. I am vegetarian and more or less vegan.
    But problem with intestines and absorbing nutrients. I do not eat over 2 000 calories per
    day or less app 1700.
    Iron is toxic I have heard if you do not need it. Nettles for instances are good to eat.

  • Hi! I have hereditary hemochromatosis (my body absorbs too much iron) and am seeking dietary recommendations to reduce the iron in my blood. I am vegan, no-oil. I do not eat white rice or flour. I eat oatmeal with ground flax and hemp seeds along with raspberries and banana in the morning. I love salads, all vegetables, and fruits, including tomatoes, black beans and lentils and whole grain pasta, quinoa – many of these have iron. I am planning to give blood to lower my levels.
    Does anyone have any thoughts?

  • Since it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to tolerate eating red meat, I suppose I’m going to have to take this into account now, huh? Are these the only ways to increase iron absorption, or are there other, recommended methods that can hopefully align with someone that doesn’t know how to cook?

  • “If you have a cast iron pan, over time it will rust. That’s oxidation, and that happens to the metals that get into your body. So you need a trace of iron for healthy blood cells, but iron builds up in the brain and oxidizes,” explains Barnard, a nutrition researcher at George Washington University. “That releases free radicals, and destroys brain cells. So a stainless steel pan is better than a cast iron pan.”

  • Iron supplements in tablet form are often enteric coated to reduce stomach irritation. Not a good idea to break/cut in half.

  • I am going vegetarian June 1st and have slowly been gearing up for the transition; this will be my third time switching to this diet. The last time I made it 90 days, I was practicing a vegetarian diet for Lent. My hope is to complete the 3 months and hopefully go 4 months if not longer, I am trying to not place a limit on myself, because at some point I hope the switch is permanent.

    The biggest problem I have is I run out of ideas to cook, and then I get bored with what I am eating and I start cheating with sweets, and then my carb intake goes through the roof, and I start eating meat again, to help off set those sweet cravings

    My hope this time is by subscribing to causes/sites like this, I will stay motivated, and keep on the diet

  • I’ve been vegan for about 14 years and I eat raw veggies with each meal. I just received my blood results and my ferritin is only 16. The doctor wants me to take a supplement. I’m going to take small amounts of molasses and add prunes into my diet. Can you recommend a supplement that works well. Thank you Great article!

  • My husband is on chemotherapy and a vegan diet.
    His RBC and hematocrit are starting to drop.
    Recommendations on eating etc

  • I am happy to say that dark chocolate contains a good amount of iron. I get a large block of squares which I break into individual pieces and have one or two squares throughout the day. What a pleasant way to up my iron intake.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this article. I had blood work done through a visit with my primary care doctor & I came back anemic. I was shocked. Never had this happened in all these years. Now, I’m taking a supplement that’s a whole food iron. My body rejected the prescription.
    But, now I’m going to take all your suggestions & incorporate them into my diet. I am vegan & I was told I’d have to start eating meat. Ethically I couldn’t. So, I’m not & this sheds new light on my problem♥️
    Thanks again for all the tips!!!
    Angie….and the life of all animals♥️

  • I’m very healthy and active with cycling, Pickleball, hiking, etc… I’ve been a strict vegetarian for nearly 25 years and eat what I would consider a varied and mostly healthy diet. I occasionally eat too many potato chips. I currently follow almost all of what you so nicely describe in your article. Thank you for the good information.

    So, being a 5ft3in 105pound, strong, healthy female specimen with the universal Type O blood, I attempted to donate blood today. I was turned away! My iron level was just below the acceptable level and I don’t weigh enough! I guess they prefer overweight couch potatoes with a diet of who knows what as long as they have high iron counts. Go figure.

  • I have low iron stores (Feritin?) and I want to start eating vegan. So….really worried about iron issue. This article was great. I am also low carb cuz carbs make my mind spin.

  • I really was interested in this article and I wasn’t let down by what I read. I really enjoyed reading this article and I was jaw dropped by the facts. I am vegetarian and the article I think really will help with my diet.

  • I would like to know more. Thank you also for the advice on the iron skillet too. The only thing with the skillet is that once the back part starts to chip off it’s really bad when it can get mixed up in the roof rights? My friend gave me her and it was old. Went through 3 generations. Given from her grand mother to her mom then to her and me. By the time I got it,-I realize that black stuff was coming onto my food. We were all having body aches, not sure if that caused it. However, I threw it away.
    I would like to join and exercise / food prepping anything. I’m plant based now for 11years.

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