Boosting Iron Absorption for Vegans

In addition to avoiding major inhibitors of iron absorption, there are plenty of ways of boosting iron absorption for vegans, including combining certain foods, using different cookware, and even taking supplements at different times.

Boosting Iron Absorption for Vegans

Vitamin C and Iron

One key way to enhance the uptake of non-haem iron is to couple iron-rich foods with vitamin C. A 50 mg dose of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) has been seen to counteract some of the inhibitory effect of phytate on iron absorption. A 150 mg dose of vitamin C can increase iron absorption to around 30%.

Vitamin C is also helpful for boosting iron absorption for vegans whose diets include high amounts of tannic acid. In one study, a 100 mg vitamin C supplement increased non-haem iron absorption from 2% to 8% (Siegenberg et al., 1991). Some research even suggests that a 500 mg dose of vitamin C is more effective than iron supplements for improving iron status (Sharma & Mathur, 1995)..

Some foods that contain high levels of TOPHYPHOS also contain vitamin C. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, and cauliflower. These foods are low in compounds that inhibit iron absorption.

Cast Iron Cooking

I’m a big fan of cast iron cookware and am happy that this offers a fairly passive way of boosting iron intake. If you aren’t such a fan of cast iron cookware, check out these nifty little cast iron fish. Simply pop the fish into your saucepan when cooking things like rice and soup.

Cast iron cookware will generally leach a bit of iron into everything you cook in your pots and pans. To maximise benefit, cook acidic, water-based foods such as tomatoes or tomato sauce in cast iron pans (Quintaes et al., 2007). You shouldn’t rely on cast iron cookware as a main iron source, however.

L-Lysine and Iron

Vegans who don’t eat a lot of legumes have a higher risk of L-lysine deficiency. Lysine is important for iron and zinc absorption. Where iron supplementation is not working to increase iron status, it is worth looking at ways to boost lysine intak.

In one study, women low in iron and lysine who took 1000-2500 mg of lysine per day for six months had an increase in iron stores (Rushton, 2002). Good food sources of lysine include peanuts, beans, lentils, and peas. These foods also contain things that inhibit iron absorption, though, so eat them with vitamin C-rich foods.

You should now have a pretty decent handle on factors that influence iron status in vegans. If you’re looking to see this knowledge in action, check out this one-week iron-boosting meal plan.

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