What Vegetables Have Iron In Them? Vegetables are one of the most nutrient-dense food groups, which means that they can contribute to an abundant amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet. Now, there’s no doubt that you need plenty of iron to thrive and can find it quite easily in meat or fish. But, and here’s where it gets interesting: you can also get iron from vegetables! So, if you are a plant-based eater or considering ditching the meat for good, don’t worry. You can take advantage of this list of vegetables that contain iron!
Vegetarian Foods That Are Loaded With Iron
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Iron is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in many bodily functions
A diet lacking in iron can result in low energy levels, shortness of breath, headaches, irritability, dizziness or anemia.
Iron can be found in two forms in foods — heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only found in animal products, whereas non-heme iron is only found in plants
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is based on an average intake of 18 mg per day. However, individual requirements vary based on a person’s gender and life stage.
For instance, men and post-menopausal women generally require around 8 mg of iron per day. This amount increases to 18 mg per day for menstruating women and to 27 mg per day for pregnant women.
And, since non-heme iron tends to be less easily absorbed by our bodies than heme iron, the RDA for vegetarians and vegans is 1.8 times higher than for meat eaters
Here is a list of plant foods that are high in iron.
Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are great sources of iron.
Listed below are the varieties containing the most iron, from highest to lowest.
1. Tofu, tempeh, natto and soybeans
Soybeans and foods derived from soybeans are packed with iron.
In fact, soybeans contain around 9.9 mg of it per cup, or 55% of the DV. The same portion of natto, a fermented soybean product, offers 15.1 mg, or 84% of the DV
Similarly, 6 ounces of soft tofu offers 2.56 mg of iron, or 14% of the DV. And the same portion of tempeh offers 4.48 mg of iron, or 25% of the DV
In addition to iron, these soy products contain between 10–34 grams of protein per portion and are also a good source of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Lentils are another iron-filled food, providing 6.6 mg per cup cooked, or 37% of the RDI
Lentils contain a significant amount of protein, complex carbs, fiber, folate and manganese as well. One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein and covers 56% of the DV for fiber.
3. Other beans and peas
Other types of beans contain good amounts of iron as well.
Lima beans, navy beans, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas closely follow soybeans, offering 4.2–4.7 mg of iron per cup cooked, or 23–26% of the DV
However, red kidney beans and white beans have the highest iron content. They provide around 5.2-6.6 mg per cup cooked, or 29–37% of the RDI
In addition to their iron content, beans and peas are excellent sources of complex carbs, fiber, folate, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and several beneficial plant compounds.
Several studies also link regularly consuming beans and peas to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. These foods may also lower blood sugar levels, but researchers say more evidence is needed
Beans, peas and lentils are rich in iron. These legumes also contain good amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that may reduce your risk of various diseases.
Nuts and seeds serve as two more iron-rich plant sources.
Those who wish to increase their total daily iron intake should add the following varieties to their diet, as they contain the highest amounts.
4. Pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flaxseeds
Pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flaxseeds are the seeds richest in iron, containing around 1.7–3.9 mg per ounce (28.5 grams), or 9–22% of the DV
Products derived from these seeds are also worth considering. For instance, two tablespoons (30 grams) of tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, contain 1.3 mg of iron — which is 7% of the DV
Similarly, hummus made from chickpeas and tahini provides you with around 3.1 mg of iron per half cup, or 17% of the DV
Seeds contain good amounts of plant protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds, too
They’re also a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp seeds, in particular, seem to contain these two fats in the ratio considered optimal for human health
5. Cashews, pine nuts and other nuts
Nuts and nut butters contain quite a bit of non-heme iron.
This is especially true for almonds, cashews, pine nuts and macadamia nuts, which contain between 0.8–1.7 mg of iron per ounce (28.5 grams), or around 4–9% of the DV
Similarly to seeds, nuts are a great source of protein, fiber, good fats, vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds
Keep in mind that blanching or roasting nuts may damage their nutrients, so favor raw and unblanched varieties
As for nut butters, it’s best to choose a 100% natural variety to avoid an unnecessary dose of added oils, sugars and salt.
Nuts and seeds are good sources of non-heme iron, as well as an array of other vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats and beneficial plant compounds. Add a small portion to your menu each day.
Gram per gram, vegetables often have a higher iron content than foods typically associated with high iron, such as meat and eggs.
Though vegetables contain non-heme iron, which is less easily absorbed, they are also generally rich in vitamin C, which helps enhance iron absorption
The following vegetables and vegetable-derived products offer the most iron per serving.
6. Leafy greens
Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, and beet greens contain between 1–5.7 mg of iron per cooked cup, or 6–32% of the RDI
Due to their bulk, some can find it difficult to consume 100 grams of raw, leafy greens. In this case, it’s best to consume them cooked.
Other iron-rich veggies that fit in this category include broccoli and Brussels sprouts, which contain between 1 and 1.8 mg per cooked cup, or around 6–10% of the DV
7. Tomato paste
At 0.5 mg per cup, raw tomatoes contain very little iron. However, when dried or concentrated, they offer a much greater amount
For instance, 1/4 cup (66 grams) of tomato paste offers 2 mg of iron, or 11% of the DV, whereas 1 cup (245 grams) of canned tomato sauce offers 2.4 mg, or 13% of the DV
Sun-dried tomatoes are another iron-rich source, providing you with 2.5 mg per half cup, or 14% of the DV
Tomatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, which may help increase iron absorption. Moreover, they’re a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of sunburn
Potatoes contain good amounts of iron, mostly concentrated in their skins.
More specifically, a large unpeeled potato (299 grams) provides 1.9 mg of iron, which is 11% of the DV. But even without their skins, sweet potatoes contain slightly more — around 2.2 mg for the same quantity, or 12% of the DV
Potatoes are also a great source of fiber. Additionally, one portion can cover up to 42% of your daily vitamin C, B6 and potassium requirements
Certain varieties of mushrooms are particularly rich in iron.
For instance, one cooked cup (156 grams) of white mushrooms contains around 2.7 mg, or 15% of the DV
One cup (86 grams) of uncooked oyster mushrooms contains 7% of the DV, whereas portobello and shiitake mushrooms contain very little
10. Palm hearts
Palm hearts are a tropical vegetable rich in fiber, potassium, manganese, vitamin C and folate.
A lesser-known fact about palm hearts is that they also contain a fair amount of iron — an impressive 4.6 mg per cup, or 26% of the DV
This versatile vegetable can be blended into dips, tossed on the grill, incorporated into a stir-fry, added to salads and even baked with your favorite toppings.
Vegetables often contain significant amounts of iron. Their generally large volume-to-weight ratio explains why eating them cooked may make it easier to meet your daily requirements.
How to Add Foods That Are High in Iron to Your Diet
Are you getting enough iron daily? The chances are that most of us probably aren’t. Our bodies need iron to grow and develop. Iron can also help prevent anemia and protect your body from infection. If you haven’t been chowing down on iron-rich foods, we’re going to give you some easy ways to incorporate this nutritional powerhouse into your diet.
Foods that are high in iron by type
To get a better idea of how you can work more iron into your diet, here is a handy list of iron-rich foods.
- Dried or canned peas and beans (kidney, garbanzo, cannellini, soybeans, etc.).
- Tempeh (fermented soybeans).
Iron-rich bread and cereal
- Enriched white bread.
- Enriched pasta.
- Wheat products.
- Bran cereals.
- Oat cereals.
- Cream of Wheat.
- Rye bread.
- Enriched rice.
- Whole wheat bread.
- Prunes and prune juice.
Iron-rich protein sources
- String beans.
- Dark leafy greens – Dandelion, collard, kale, spinach.
- Cabbage, Brussels sprouts.
- Tomato paste and other products.
Other foods that are high in iron
- Blackstrap molasses.
- Pumpkin seeds.
- Sesame seeds.
- Flax seeds.
- Pine nuts.
- Macadamia nuts.
- Hemp seeds.
Why you need iron in your diet
“Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, which makes it an important mineral that our bodies need in order to carry oxygen so that our cells can produce energy,” says registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. “If we don’t have enough iron, we will not have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen. This leads to extreme fatigue and lightheadedness,” Zumpano adds.
Iron is also essential for brain development and growth, and the production of many other cells and hormones in the body.
“Without adequate iron stores, individuals can develop a condition called iron-deficiency anemia — the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. It’s associated with symptoms like fatigue, weakness, trouble maintaining body heat, pale skin, dizziness, headache, and an inflamed tongue,” says Zumpano.
How much iron do adults need daily?
According to Zumpano, the daily recommended amount of iron for adults ages 19-50 is:
- 18 milligrams a day for women.
- 27 milligrams a day for pregnant women.
- 9 milligrams a day for lactating women.
- 8 milligrams a day for men.
In general, women tend to need more iron to make up for what is lost during menstrual cycles. Women who are 51 and older should aim for 8 milligrams of iron daily.
How much iron do kids need?
For children, the recommended amount of iron can vary based on age.
|Birth to 6|
|7-12 months||11 milligrams|
|1-3 years||7 milligrams|
|4-8 years||10 milligrams|
|9-13 years||8 milligrams|
|14-18 years||11 milligrams for males|
15 milligrams for females
While these are general guidelines, Zumpano recommends that you get a proper diagnosis and a personalized recommendation from your doctor.
Types of iron
There are two main types of iron — heme and non-heme iron.
“Heme is better absorbed by the body and is commonly found in liver, meat, poultry and seafood.”
“Non-heme iron is commonly found in legumes (beans), nuts, seeds, and certain vegetables like spinach and potatoes.”
You can also get iron through fortified sources such as tofu, grains, bread and cereal.
Is it better to get iron from food or a supplement?
The good news is that most people can get a sufficient amount of iron in their diets. Zumpano says this is mainly due to the consumption of animal products.
“Most people can get the iron they need from the food they eat. This is in part due to the fact that the main source of iron in the typical American diet is from animal products. The average American eats significantly more than the daily allowance.”
If you don’t eat meat or animal products, Zumpano suggests that you eat more leafy greens, legumes (beans), whole grains, mushrooms and tofu, along with vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes and red peppers. Eating a source of iron with a source of vitamin C will help your body absorb iron even better.
“The key is that we should always get our iron from food unless our physician recommends otherwise. For some, a supplement may be necessary, but you shouldn’t start taking one without discussing it with your physician first,” says Zumpano.
High iron vegetables for vegetarians and vegans: 10 of the best
Meat and other animal products are rich sources of iron, which sparks concerns about iron deficiency in people following vegetarian and vegan diets. However, there are several suitable sources of iron for these individuals.
Heme iron, which is more abundant in animal products, is easier for the body to absorb. However, people who follow plant-based diets are no more likely than others to experience iron deficiency, providing they eat a wide variety of foods. However, it is important to note that they may experience iron deficienciesTrusted Source if they are not careful in what they eat.
Keep reading to learn more about 10 vegetables that vegetarians and vegans can eat to meet their iron needs, as well as more information on why iron is important.
10 high iron vegetables for vegetarians
A person’s daily iron needsTrusted Source vary with age, health, and whether they are pregnant or lactating. Adult males aged 19–50 years need 8 milligrams (mg) a day, while females need 18 mg. After the age of 50, most adults require 8 mg of the substance. During pregnancy, a person’s iron needs increase to 27 mg daily.
Some vegetables that are high in iron includeTrusted Source the below.
This fungal delicacy can be expensive as a main course but can serve as a garnish for salads, sandwiches, and other meals for a more affordable price. It offers 6.94 mgTrusted Source of iron per 200 gram (g) serving.
This thin, green root vegetable is one of the most suitable vegetarian sources of protein. Some people also call it the black oyster plant, serpent root, viper’s herb, or viper’s grass. Individuals can steam 250 g of black salsify to receive 5.5 mgTrusted Source of iron.
Richer in vital nutrients than more water-dense lettuces, such as romaine, spinach is a suitable choice for salads. It offers 4 mgTrusted Source of iron per 150 g serving. Try mixing it with other leafy greens to boost the iron content of a salad even higher.
This bright, rainbow-hued vegetable makes it suitable for salads. Try mixing it with spinach for a lunch rich in iron, or steam and season it on its own for a quick snack. Cooked Swiss chard offers 3.4 mgTrusted Source of iron per 150 g serving.
Cooked beet greens
A person can eat beet greens as a snack or use them to replace other lettuces in a salad. A 100 g serving offers 1.9 mgTrusted Source of iron.
Add canned tomatoes to a salad for some acidic flavor and an iron boost, or try them on a sandwich. They contain 1.57 mgTrusted Source of iron per serving of half a cup.
People can include this uniquely shaped lettuce in salads. Some also like to steam it and eat it on its own. It contains 2 mgTrusted Source of iron per 100 g serving.
Most people serve green cabbage as a side dish. Try it in a casserole for some extra crunch and added iron — it contains 0.94 mgTrusted Source of iron per 200 g serving.
Many people eat Brussels sprouts salted, while others enjoy them cooked with garlic in an air fryer or shredded and raw as part of a salad. After steaming, they offer 2.13 mgTrusted Source of iron per 150 g.
Boiled green peas
Boiled green peas contain 2.46 mgTrusted Source of iron per cup. They make a suitable snack and also pair well with other vegetables. Peas can also add extra texture to an iron-rich salad with Swiss chard and spinach.
Why is iron important?
Iron is vital for health because the body needs it to produce hemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells transport oxygen. Some of its roles includeTrusted Source:
- supporting muscle metabolism
- supporting the development of connective tissue such as blood and cartilage
- supporting brain development
- helping the body synthesize hormones
- maintaining proper functioning of the body’s cells
A person not getting enough iron may lead to them experiencing iron deficiency. With this condition, an individual may not have any initial symptoms, but as it progresses, they may develop iron deficiency anemia, which can involve the followingTrusted Source symptomsTrusted Source:
- low energy
- feeling easily out of breath
- chest pain
- cold hands and feet
- irregular heart rate
In severe cases, iron deficiency can become life threatening. People deficient in iron typically have longer hospital stays, worse outcomes when they get sick, a higher risk of heart health issues, and a higher overall risk of dying.
Pregnant peopleTrusted Source with iron deficiency have a higher risk of negative outcomes such as preterm labor or having a baby with low birth weight. In children, iron deficiency can lead to neurological problems and developmental delaysTrusted Source.
While diet plays a role in iron deficiency, it is not the only factor. A person’s risk of the condition depends on their age, health, and other factors. Bleeding is also a major risk factor, such as gastrointestinal bleeding from an ulcer or another digestive issue. Menstruation in females of reproductive age can also contribute to iron deficiencyTrusted Source.
This is why it is crucial for doctors to assess potential causes of iron deficiency and not just treat the symptoms. Sometimes, iron deficiency is the first symptom of serious bleeding or ulcers. The condition can also appear in people with certain rare genetic disorders, end stage kidney failure, or congestive heart failure.
Individuals may also have a higher risk of iron deficiency after:
- major surgery
- serious injury
- giving birth
- a hemorrhage