BokchoycookedIf you are a vegan, what is the first argument you hear from meat-eating advocates? Well the sarcastic ones might say something about plants having feelings too, but the most popular rebuttal usually has something to do with iron. And yes iron is an essential mineral because it contributes to the production of blood cells. The human body needs iron to make the oxygen-carrying proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin. But just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you’re going to wither away with anemia.

However, anemia is not something to be taken lightly. (Although I realize I just did.) The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world. As many as 80 percent of the world’s population may be iron deficient, while 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia. The human body stores some iron to replace any that is lost. However, low iron levels over a long period of time can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms include lack of energy, shortness of breath, headache, irritability, dizziness, or weight loss.

Eating red meat and organ meat are the most efficient ways to get iron, but for vegans, obviously, that’s not going to happen. Here are 12 plant-based foods with some of the highest iron levels:

Tofu (1/2 cup): 6.6 mg
Spirulina (1 tsp): 5 mg
Cooked soybeans (1/2 cup): 4.4 mg
Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce): 4.2 mg
Quinoa (4 ounces): 4 mg
Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp): 4 mg
Tomato paste (4 ounces): 3.9 mg
White beans (1/2 cup) 3.9 mg
Dried apricots (1 cup): 3.5 mg
Cooked spinach (1/2 cup): 3.2 mg
Dried peaches (6 halves): 3.1 mg
Prune juice (8 ounces): 3 mg
Lentils (4 ounces): 3 mg
Peas (1 cup): 2.1 mg

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