Top 10 High Iron Foods for Vegetarians and Vegans

Top 10 High Iron Foods for Vegetarians and Vegans

Iron is an essential nutrient primarily needed for the 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 fatigue, weakness, anxiety, irritability, hair loss, and depression. Iron deficiency anemia is difficult to diagnose and requires a blood test.

Iron is more bio-available from heme (meat) sources than from non-heme (plant sources), so vegans and vegetarians are often concerned about their iron status and intake. The Institute of Health almost 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.

High Iron Foods for Vegetarians and Vegans

Dried Apricots1 Dried Fruit (Apricots)
Iron
per Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
8mg
(42% DV)
6mg
(35% DV)
4mg
(22% DV)

More Dried fruit High in Iron

  • 36% DV per cup of dried peaches
  • 26% DV per cup of dried prunes and currants
  • 24% DV per cup of dried raisins
  • 21% DV per cup of dried pears
  • 17% DV per cup of dried figs
  • 7% DV per cup of dried apples

Note: Dried fruit is high in natural sugars, so should be eaten in moderate servings of around 1 handful per day.

White Beans2 Large White Beans
Iron
per Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
7mg
(37% DV)
4mg
(21% DV)
5mg
(30% DV)

More Beans High in Iron

  • 49% DV per cup of cooked soybeans
  • 37% DV per cup of cooked lentils
  • 26% DV per cup of cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 25% DV per cup of lima beans
  • 24% DV per cup of navy beans
  • 20% DV per cup of black beans (frijoles negros)
  • 20% DV per cup of pinto beans
  • 20% DV per cup of black-eyed peas

See the complete list of beans high in iron.

A Bowl of Spinach3 Spinach
Iron
per Cup Cooked
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
6mg
(36% DV)
4mg
(20% DV)
31mg
(172% DV)

Other Greens High in Iron

  • 22% DV per cup of cooked Swiss chard
  • 16% DV per cup of cooked turnip greens
  • 6% DV per cup of raw chopped kale
  • 5% DV per cup of raw chopped beet greens

See the complete list of vegetables high in iron.

Thick dark chocolate squares melting4 Baking Chocolate (Unsweetened)
Iron
per 1oz Square
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
5mg
(28% DV)
17mg
(97% DV)
5mg
(30% DV)
  • 66% DV per cup of cocoa powder
  • 6% DV in a 1.5oz (45g) piece of milk chocolate
A bowl of quinoa5 Quinoa
Iron
per Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
3mg
(15% DV)
1mg
(8% DV)
2mg
(14% DV)

More Grains High in Iron

  • 12% DV per cup of oatmeal
  • 12% DV per cup of barley
  • 11% DV per cup of rice
  • 10% DV per cup of bulgur
  • 7% DV per cup of buckwheat
  • 6% DV per cup of millet

Bran from whole grains can impair absorption of iron supplements, while whole grains are a good source of iron, they should not be consumed with iron supplements.

See the list of all grains high in iron.

Mushrooms6 White Button Mushrooms
Iron
per Cup Cooked
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
3mg
(15% DV)
2mg
(10% DV)
12mg
(69% DV)

Other Mushrooms High in Iron

  • 45% DV per cup of morels
  • 6% DV per cup of oyster mushrooms
  • 3% DV per cup of shiitakes

See the complete list of vegetables high in iron.

Squash and Pumpkin Seeds7 Squash and Pumpkin Seeds
Iron
per 1oz Handful
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
3mg
(14% DV)
9mg
(49% DV)
3mg
(18% DV)

More Seeds High in Iron

  • 13% DV per oz of hemp seeds
  • 12% DV per oz of chia seeds
  • 11% DV per 1oz handful of sunflower seeds
  • 9% DV per oz of flaxseeds

See the complete list of nuts and seeds high in iron.

An acorn squash8 Acorn Squash
Iron
per Cup Cooked
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
2mg
(11% DV)
1mg
(5% DV)
3mg
(18% DV)

Pumpkin provides 7% DV iron per cup, most other winter squash provide 6% DV iron per cup.

Stalks of leeks9 Leeks
Iron
per Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
2mg
(10% DV)
2mg
(12% DV)
7mg
(38% DV)

Scallions (Spring Onions) are also high in Iron with 0.4mg (2% DV) per large onion.

Cashews10 Cashews (Dry Roasted)
Iron
per 1 Oz Handful
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
2mg
(9% DV)
6mg
(33% DV)
2mg
(12% DV)

More Nuts & Seeds High in Iron

  • 9% DV per 1oz handful of pine nuts
  • 7% DV per 1oz handful of hazelnuts
  • 7% DV per 1oz handful of peanuts
  • 7% DV per 1oz handful of pistachios
  • 6% DV per 1oz handful of almonds
  • 6% DV per 1oz handful of macadamia nuts

See all nuts and seeds high in iron.

See All 200 Vegetarian Foods High in Iron

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A printable one-page list of vegetarian and vegan iron foods.

More Iron Rich Foods for Vegetarians

FoodServingIron
1 Fortified Cerealsper 3/4 cup109% DV
(20mg)
2 Artichokes1 cup28% DV
(5mg)
3 Hearts of Palm1 cup25% DV
(5mg)
4 Soy Protein Isolate1oz23% DV
(4mg)
5 Dried Thyme1 tblsp19% DV
(3mg)
6 Jute (Molokhiya)1 cup15% DV
(3mg)
7 Green Peas1 cup14% DV
(2mg)
8 Pumpkin Leaves1 cup13% DV
(2mg)
9 Tempeh100 grams12% DV
(2mg)
10 Spirulina (Dried Seaweed)1 tblsp11% DV
(2mg)
11 Dried Goji Berries5 tbsp11% DV
(2mg)
12 Tofu1/5 Block10% DV
(2mg)
13 Whole Wheat Bread1 slice6% DV
(1mg)
14 Molasses1 tbsp5% DV
(1mg)
15 Sorghum Syrup1 tbsp4% DV
(1mg)

What Affects Iron Absorption?

  • The most important factor is your existing iron level. A low iron level will increase absorption, while a high iron level will decrease absorption. In general, you absorb 10-15% of the iron from foods. (2)
  • Meat proteins will increase the absorption of non-heme iron. (2)
  • Vitamin C will increase the absorption of non-heme iron by as much as 85%. (2,3)
  • Tannins, oxalates, polyphenols, and phytates found in tea and coffee can reduce the absorption of non-heme iron by up to 65%. Black tea reduces absorption more than green tea and coffee. (2,3,4)
  • The following teas and beverages also inhibit iron absorption: Peppermint tea, cocoa, vervain, lime flower, chamomile, and most other herbal teas containing polyphenols. (4)
  • Calcium, polyphenols, and phytates found in legumes, whole grains, and chocolate can reduce absorption of non-heme iron. (2) Further milk, and antacids can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (5)
  • Some protein from soy products may inhibit non-heme iron absorption. (2)
  • High fiber foods, such as whole grains, raw vegetables, and bran can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (5)
  • Foods or drinks containing caffeine can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (4, 5)

How much iron do I need?

The daily value (%DV) for iron is set at 18mg per day. Most adults only need 8-18mg, however, vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume 15-32mg per day. (2)

About the Data

Data for the curated food lists comes from the USDA Food Data Central Repository.

You can check our data against the USDA by clicking the (Source) link at the bottom of each food listing.

Note: When checking data please be sure the serving sizes are the same. In the rare case you find any difference, please contact us and we will fix it right away.

About Nutrient Targets

Setting targets can provide a guide to healthy eating.

Some of the most popular targets include:
  • Daily Value (%DV) - The %DV is a general guideline for everyone and accounts for absorption factors. It is the most common target in the U.S. and is the target on the nutrition labels of most products. It is set by the U.S. FDA.
  • Reference Dietary Intake (%RDI) - The Reference Dietary Intake (RDI) is a customized target accounting for age and gender. It is set by the U.S. Institute of Medicine. The RDI for amino acids is set by the U.N. World Health Organization. The daily value (%DV) builds on the reference dietary intake to create a number for everyone.
  • Adequate Intake (%AI) - Sets a target for Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. The Adequate Intake is also set by the U.S. Institute of Medicine. It represents a number to ensure adequacy but lacks the same level of evidence as the Reference Dietary Intake. In short, the number is less accurate than the RDI.
  • See the Guide to Recommended Daily Intakes for more information.

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Data Sources and References

  1. U.S. Agricultural Research Service Food Data Central
  2. Office of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet: Iron
  3. Hallberg L, Rossander L. Effect of different drinks on the absorption of non-heme iron from composite meals. Hum Nutr Appl Nutr. 1982 Apr;36(2):116-23.
  4. Richard F. Hurrell, Manju Reddy, and James D. Cook. Inhibition of non-heme iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages. British Journal of Nutrition (1999), 81, 289-295
  5. National Library of Medicine Fact Sheet on Taking Iron Supplements.