In a generation where we are overfed, a lot of us are actually undernourished when it comes to vitamins and minerals. Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world, so we need to pay special attention to how much iron we are getting and watch out for signs that we are not getting enough.

Why do we need iron?
Iron is an essential element for haemoglobin production and transporting oxygen around our body to all your cells. Haemoglobin is hugely important in allowing our organs to receive enough oxygen, which explains why you feel tired all the time if you are iron deficient.

That being said, iron has other important functions in our body. If you have enough iron stores, your exercise performance will be enhanced because of faster delivery of oxygen and nutrients directly to your muscles. This results in faster recovery times. Iron and your immune system are also closely linked. Iron deficiency paralyses the immune response. That’s one of the main ways our immune system fights bacteria and viruses in our bodies – by depriving them of iron. All in all, iron is needed for the healthy functioning of all our different systems, so we can’t afford to let it slide.

Types of Iron
Iron from our food is available in two forms, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is present in animal foods such as beef, fish, and poultry. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods such as spinach, lentils, quinoa, and even dark chocolate. A plant based diet will focus on non-heme iron sources. What you eat alongside your non-heme sources of iron will greatly impact how much iron is absorbed once it enters your body. Vitamin C will enhance iron intake while tea will inhibit its intake, for example. This explains why eating tomatoes with your spinach salad will double the amount or iron absorbed from your meal – the two pair well together.

 How much iron do you need?
The recommended daily allowance for iron is 8mg for males and 18mg for females. Use the table below as a guide to how much iron you can get from a variety of plant foods.

Food Iron Content (mg)
Dark Chocolate (2 squares) 10
Fava Beans (1 cup) 2
Kidney Beans (1 cup) 6
Lentils (1 cup) 7
Mixed Nuts (30g) 4
Oats (1 cup) 8
Quinoa (1 cup) 8
Spinach (1 cup) 3
Sweet Potato 0.8

As long as you are mindful of what you eat and that your diet is varied enough, it is more than possible to get enough iron on a plant based diet. Read more about the benefits of plant based diet here.