Ever since going vegan, I have gotten a blood test done on average once per year. Even though I know I am eating a more balanced and healthy diet than ever before in my life, I have become more aware of the connection between diet and health, and want to be sure my body has all the nutrients it needs.
Up until this year, my blood values have always come back perfect and I haven’t had any deficiencies. However, this time my iron levels were a bit low (ferritine was at 8 ng/ml, while the recommended range is 10 – 200 ng/ml), so my doctor recommended to increase my iron intake through my diet.
In the past months I have been feeling more tired than usual, so I think this might be related to the iron deficiency. I also work out a lot and have donated blood, which could have contributed to the iron deficiency. Other effects of iron depletion can include fatigue, pale skin, headaches, hair loss and a weakened immune system.
After the diagnosis, I started researching and thought the information I found might also help other people, who want to increase their iron levels. If you have anemia, it would be best to research supplements to help refill your iron stores. If your iron stores are depleted, but you are not anemic, it is possible to raise ferritin levels with certain foods.
It’s important to know that getting too much iron is not good for our bodies either, and can lead to heart problems and an increased risk of cancer, so don’t supplement iron if you’re not sure what your iron levels are. Get your blood tested first if you are concerned about your iron levels, and only increase your intake if you are deficient.
There are 2 different kinds of iron – the one that is present in animal sources like meat (called heme iron), and the one that is present in plants (called non-heme iron). The iron from animal sources is absorbed more easily by our bodies, but it is not hard to get enough iron on a plant-based diet either, if you consider the tips below.
The recommended daily intake is 15 mg for women and 10 mg for men. Your average requirement for iron is higher if you engage in (endurance) exercise.
- If you are iron deficient and want to increase your intake, first you have to know which foods are high in iron, and eat more of those.
- Secondly, you should make sure to eat vitamin C with them, because the vitamin C increases the absorption of iron in your body.
- And thirdly, you should avoid certain foods that inhibit iron absorption.
So what can you eat to increase your iron levels?
What to eat to treat iron deficiency
High in iron:
- millet, quinoa, amaranth, oats
- lentils, white beans, chickpeas, soy beans, tofu
- pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, pistachios, sunflower seeds
- dried apricots
- basil, parsley, dill
- hemp protein
- if you eat grains, choose whole grains or sourdough
- beetroot juice
Combine with the above:
- drink orange juice or (hot) water with lemon with your meal
- eat other fruits high in vitamin C with your meal
- take probiotics before a meal to increase the ability for absorption in the gut
Hindering the absorption of iron (wait about 2h before + after meals to consume these):
- coffee, green & black tea, red wine (the tannins inhibit iron absorption)
- chili (cayenne pepper)
- dairy & foods high in calcium
- cocoa (oxalate inhibits iron absorption)
- curcumin might reduce iron absorption, so it’s better to avoid curcumin supplements. Turmeric however is a good source of iron and safe to be taken even if you have anemia.
High iron recipes
Here is the recipe for my Iron Boost Smoothie.
- 1 banana
- 200 ml beetroot juice
- 60 g fresh spinach
- handful frozen berries
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp flax seeds
- 1 Tbsp hemp seeds
- 1 tsp chlorella
- 1 tsp baobab
- Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
- Enjoy as smoothie, or serve in a bowl, topped with your favorite toppings.