Iron is an essential nutrient primarily needed for transport of oxygen throughout the body. A deficiency of iron leads to weakness and anemia, commonly called iron-deficiency anemia. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may take time to develop and include anxiety, irritability, hair loss, and depression. Iron deficiency anemia is difficult to diagnose and requires a blood test.
Iron is more bio-available in heme (meat) sources that from non-heme (plant sources), as such, vegans and vegetarians are often concerned about their iron status and intake. The Institute of Health practically doubles the recommended daily allowances of iron for vegetarians from 11mg to 20mg of iron per day for adults. The daily value (%DV) seen on most food labels also takes vegetarians into account and is set at 18mg per day. This amount of iron is a good goal for almost all individuals, except pregnant women, who should consume 27mg per day.
The good news is that the less iron you have the more your body will absorb, boosting the bioavailability of iron from all sources. Vitamin C found in plant foods also boosts iron absorption. The bad news is that nutrients like polyphenols in plant foods can block iron absorption. For information, see the section on iron absorption.
Vegetarian and vegan sources of iron include beans, lentils, tofu, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, whole grains, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, pumpkin, squash, and salad greens. Eating a wide variety of these foods should ensure you get the 18mg daily value for iron. Below are the top 10 vegetarian and vegan iron food sources ranked by common serving size, for more, see the extended list of less common iron foods, and the article on fruits and vegetables high in iron.