First let’s talk about how iron functions in the body. This mineral is necessary for consistent energy, normal immune system function, and healthy red blood cell production. Remember that red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from your lungs to all of your other cells, so their sustained health should be of great interest to you! Iron is also necessary to make collagen, the protein that gives structure to our hair, skin, nails, and organs.
The iron that is found in animal foods is in a slightly different form than the iron in plant foods. Animal iron is easily absorbed, but you might absorb as little as 2% of the iron found in vegetables. If you consume a mainly vegetarian or vegan diet, it could be challenging to get the iron you need. Before we talk about how to increase iron absorption, let’s establish some good sources of iron:
- Beet greens
- Brazil Nuts
- Nutritional Yeast
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Swiss chard
- Wheat germ
To increase the absorption of iron from these foods, there are two main nutrients to consider:
Vitamin C: This nutrient can free iron up for absorption into the gut. Try preparing your iron-rich food with lemon or other citrus fruits.
Cysteine: This amino acid can also help increase absorption, so try eating it at the same meal as your iron-containing vegetables. Good vegetarian sources of cysteine include:
- Brussels sprouts
Cooking your food in a cast iron pan can also add to your intake.
Try this Fiery Tofu Marinade with iron-rich molasses from The Ordinary Vegetarian.