The Student Guide To Eating And Living For A More Sustainable Future

Food for fuel: plant-based Iron sources explained

Ella shares her top tips on where and how we can get Iron from plant-based sources – check out the Nutrients page afterwards to download free downloadable posters on Iron, Protein and Calcium plant-based sources!

What is iron?

We’ve all heard of iron, most of us know that we need it for our bodies to be healthy, but what actually is iron? Iron is a mineral, required for various different functions in our body. Surprisingly, it is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world, but through knowing which foods are good sources of iron, you can prevent yourself from lacking this essential nutrient.

So why do we need it?

Iron is the main component of haemoglobin, a key component of red blood cells, so that oxygen can be carried around the body. Deficiencies can therefore result in muscles and organs not receiving enough oxygen.

Other functions of iron include:

• Healthy Immune System
• Removing Toxins in the Body
• Nerve Signals: including serotonin signalling, which is needed for good mood, appetite and sleep
• Healthy Hair
• Supporting Essential Enzymes for Energy


Symptoms of iron deficiency can include fatigue and weakness.

Ok so it’s pretty important, how much do I need then?

The level of iron we need per day varies from individual to individual. However, we should aim for the recommended daily amounts:

  • Men over 18: 8.7mg a day
  • Women 18-50: 14.8 mg day*
  • Women over 50: 8.7mg a day

* Women with heavy periods are at high risk of deficiency and may need higher amounts during these times

So what sources of Iron are there?

When people think of iron rich foods, red meat is usually the first thing that comes to their head, but there are plenty of plant-based foods that can meet your iron needs more sustainably.

Some top plant sources of iron:
• Lentils 3.3mg/100g
• Tofu 5.4 mg/100g
• Cashews 6.7mg/100g
• Chickpeas 6.2 mg/100g
• Pumpkin Seeds 3.3 mg/100g
• Chia Seeds 7.7 mg/100g
• Other good sources include: beans, fortified cereals, kale, quinoa and dried apricots

Although foods may have a high content of iron per 100g, this does not mean our bodies will absorb the whole amount. Foods contain an array of compounds, including some which reduce the ability for your body to take nutrients from food. Vitamin C helps to absorb iron from food, so eating vitamin C rich foods in combination with iron sources is your best option. Vitamin C rich foods include broccoli, kiwi, leafy green veg, oranges and potatoes, to name just a few!

Top Tip:

Avoid drinking tea with your meals as it contains certain food compounds (polyphenols) which can form complexes with iron, blocking it from being absorbed by your body!




Check out our free nutrient posters here!




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