How do I get iron without red meat?

Iron is a key component of haemoglobin in red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body. A deficiency can cause tiredness, fatigue, lowered immunity and a reduced capacity to exercise.

While red meat is an important source of iron, this important mineral is also widespread in plant foods including grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables.  The iron in plant foods (called non-haem) iron is not as well absorbed by the body as the haem iron in meat, chicken and fish, but its absorption can be increased by the presence of vitamin C.  Tannins (in tea and coffee) on the other hand, can reduce the absorption of non-haem iron.  This means that including vitamin C rich fruit and vegetables along with iron rich meals, having tea and coffee between rather than with meals can help to maximise iron absorption.

The best iron-rich foods on a meat-free diet include:

  • legumes (lentils, chickpeas and dried or canned beans)
  • tofu and tempeh
  • wholegrains, particularly quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • nuts and seeds
  • dried fruit, particularly dried apricots, dates and prunes
  • eggs (for lacto-ovo vegetarians)

And don’t forget to include a vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable such as citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, tomato, capsicum, spinach, broccoli and cabbage to your meals.

Good examples would be natural muesli with nuts, seeds and berries, a wholegrain wrap with felafel, hummus, tomato and baby spinach and a tofu and vegetable stir-fry (including capsicum, green leafy vegetables and broccoli) with quinoa and cashew nuts.

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