Ask the Dietician: Iron

Q: Will I become anemic if I stop eating meat? Which plant foods supply iron?

Ginny Messina, R.D.: Diets built around plant foods are usually rich in iron. For example, ½ cup of cooked lentils has more than twice as much iron as 3 ounces of beef. However, iron from plants is absorbed at a lower rate than iron from meat. There is an easy fix for this, though because vitamin C dramatically increases absorption of iron from plant foods. So the key to good iron status on a vegan diet is to eat plenty of iron-rich foods—which includes all beans, whole grains and enriched grains—and to pair them up with vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, leafy green vegetables, peppers, cauliflower and cabbage.

It’s easy to do this—just make sure your meals include a whole or enriched grain or a serving of beans or soy and then add at least one serving of a vitamin C-rich food to each meal. Some examples:

  • Bran flakes with soymilk and a glass of orange juice
  • Oatmeal topped with strawberries
  • Tofu stir-fried with cabbage
  • Lentil soup with spinach

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