Iron can be complex. Most doctors are not trained with nutrition like vegan doctors who have used studies extensively to base their facts on nutrition. Various studies have revealed that when doctors are in medical school, approximately 71% of medical schools require less than 25 hours of nutritional education. There are many doctors who will recommend eating red meat for iron, and that is an issue with heme iron, see below.

We can get iron from many plant foods, and below is an explanation of iron, a critical nutrient, and all you ever wanted to know:

“The heme form of iron, found in meats, is more readily absorbed -but this isn’t necessarily good. It means we tend to store iron even when our bodies don’t need it. That’s a problem. Higher iron stores correlate with type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and premature mortality. In a recent study of 500,000 adults, heme iron was strongly linked to death from nine different causes. This may be because heme iron is a provident molecule that can form carcinogens and cause DNA damage, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

In contrast, when we get iron from plants (non-heme iron), our bodies are better able to regulate absorption -if our iron stores are low, we absorb more, and vice versa. People eating plant-based diets can adapt over time to absorb more iron. Non-heme iron has not been tied to chronic diseases, and of course, it typically comes from the many beneficial phytonutrients found in plant foods.

Iron is abundant in many plant foods, including lentils, beans, (esp. soy), spinach, oatmeal, quinoa, and seeds. Phytates in some plant foods can decrease absorption, but this can be overcome by pairing these foods with Vitamin C (eg, 3/4 cup broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collards, bell peppers, catalpa, citrus, fruits, papaya, or strawberries) raises iron absorption 4-6 fold!

To maximize iron absorption, avoid drinking coffee and tea with meals. These beverages inhibit absorption, as do calcium supplements; consume them a least an hour apart from iron sources. Dairy also lowers iron absorption.

Vegans and vegetarians are no more likely to have iron-deficiency anemia than omnivores. In fact, vegans consume as much or more iron than omnivores. Moderate to severe iron-deficiency anemia may require iron supplements, with the advice of a health professional. Eating meat is not the best answer. If you have iron-deficiency anemia, it is critical to find out why. The cause is almost never a well-planned plant-based diet; more commonly it’s menstrual blood loss, gastrointestinal bleeding, or other health issues.” Dr. Michelle McMacken Veg_md. on Instagram

Comments on her post: Molasses is a source of iron as well, but obviously also a source of added sugar. Regarding calcium-soy is actually a good source of calcium, especially in fortified soy foods such as calcium-set tofu or fortified soy milk. Absorption of calcium from these sources is very good, about 30%, however high calcium foods might inhibit iron absorption if eaten at the same time. Cocoa is high in phytates?

References: Etemadi et al, BMJ 2017
Rizzo, et al, J Acad Nutr Diet 2013
Hunt et al, Am J Clin Nutr 2000

Armah et al, J Nurt 2015

Melina et al, J Acad Nutr Diet 2016

Saunders et al, Med J Aust 2013

Shupach et al, Eur J Nutr 2017
For more information: or Davis & Melina, “Becoming Vegan” Nutritional Guidance

All credit to Dr. Michelle McMacken
Board-Certified Internal Medicine Physician, Registered Dietician and Health Coach
Current Physician at Bellevue NYC Health Hospital
~Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program is designed to help people get healthier by changing their lifestyle habits, especially their diet. Reversing chronic diseases; type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, heart disease, high blood cholesterol, or overweight. “

This site does not take any claims to treat and diagnose diseases. Always check with your doctor for advice.

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