50 Plant-Based Iron-Rich Foods

Vegan and vegetarian diets are trending. Here you can find out what you have to pay attention to and which plant-based iron-rich foods you take in enough of the important trace element.

It’s the difference

Many think iron is only found in meat. But that’s not true. Iron is contained in both animal and plant foods. However, it is present there in different forms and can be absorbed differently by the human body. Here is an overview of the information on the two iron shapes for you:

Heme iron

  • ferrous iron (Fe2+)
  • from animal sources (meat, fish)
  • around 25% is absorbed

Non-heme iron

  • trivalent iron (Fe3+)
  • vegetable iron
  • becomes heavier, only absorbed up to a maximum of 10%

Iron requirement

Iron is an essential nutrient that you must get from your diet. Iron requirements vary according to gender and age. The following groups of people need more iron because they consume the trace element heavily:

  • Children in the growth phase, especially between 12-15 years
  • Girls and women who are menstruating
  • Pregnant women and
  • Athletes (especially endurance athletes)

Tip: If you are unsure about your iron balance, have the ferritin value measured in a blood test. This storage protein is more informative about the status of your iron supply than the iron value in the blood serum.

Plant-based iron-rich foods

Since your intestines cannot absorb the trace element from plants quite as well as from animal sources, as a vegetarian or vegan you have to pay more attention to plant-based iron-rich foods in your diet. But there are also enough products that are definitely a good vegan source of iron. Above all, seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and dried fruit are real all-rounders and excellent sources:


The green representatives score particularly well here in the category of good plant-based iron-rich foods:

  • Kale
  • Peas
  • chard
  • salsify
  • spinach

Cereals & pseudocereals

Whether for baking or in muesli, porridge, or homemade snacks – a great vegan source of iron in this area is:

  • amaranth
  • buckwheat
  • couscous
  • Wholemeal spelled flour
  • oatmeal
  • millet
  • quinoa
  • brown rice
  • Wholemeal Wheat Flour


Iron-rich herbs, which you can combine perfectly with many dishes, are actually also a perfect vegan source of iron:

  • curry leaves
  • cardamom
  • Cinnamon


A great vegan source of iron that can be used to conjure up a variety of dishes:

  • Chickpeas
  • kidney beans
  • lenses
  • Mung beans
  • soybeans
  • tofu
  • White beans


Iron-rich herbs, which you can combine perfectly with many dishes, are actually also a perfect vegan source of iron:

  • nettle
  • cress
  • lovage
  • dandelion
  • mint
  • Parsely
  • thyme

Nuts, Seeds

The following iron-rich products are ideal in muesli, in salads, but also sprinkled over casseroles or desserts:

  • cashew nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • hazelnuts
  • cocoa beans
  • pumpkin seeds
  • linseed
  • almonds
  • brazil nuts
  • pine nuts
  • pistachios
  • Sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • walnuts
  • wheat bran

Dried fruit

Although they are higher in calories than fresh fruit, they are clearly ahead when it comes to iron:

  • apricot
  • banana
  • dates
  • peach

Good to know: Just eating a lot of plant-based iron-rich foods at once in just one meal is not very effective. It is, therefore, better to ingest products with a high iron content throughout the day, as the absorption capacity of the intestine is limited.

Bioavailability of vegan iron sources

Which vegan iron source is one of the best also depends on other co-factors. It’s worth taking a closer look: Some foods – and also the iron-rich products mentioned above – contain some additional substances that support iron absorption in a perfectly positive way, but unfortunately also some that stupidly inhibit it. With sufficient background knowledge, you can control the usability of the trace element iron for the body, the so-called bioavailability:

Absorption inhibiting

Phytic acid

This secondary plant substance, which is mainly found in legumes, whole grain cereals and seeds and likes to slow down good plant-based iron-rich foods, is at the forefront of the impractical iron absorption inhibitors. However, you can reduce the phytic acid content by:

  • Long soak
  • Heat
  • Ferment
  • Germinate
  • Addition of vitamin C


This negative antagonist to iron occurs in the following drinks, which you should therefore only drink at least half an hour after an iron-rich meal:

  • Coffee
  • black tea
  • green tea
  • cocoa


Unfortunately, the food additives used in soda, cola, and long-life milk also inhibit iron absorption.


Products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt impede iron absorption due to their calcium content.

Tip: It is better to prepare your overnight oats with some juice than with milk. Or alternatively use soy milk.

Oxalic acid

This substance also inhibits the absorption of iron in the intestine. It stupidly works against the good iron content in raw cocoa or spinach, which also contain oxalic acid. Therefore, it is best to counteract this with a good dose of vitamin C. You can also find oxalic acid in rhubarb.

Attention: If your intestinal health is impaired, such as with celiac disease, i.e. gluten intolerance, or irritable bowel syndrome, it may be that your intestines can only absorb very limited iron – and that is the reason for empty iron stores.


With a few tricks, however, you can also cleverly turn a vegan iron source into a top iron supplier. In fact, some factors are extremely absorption-promoting. This includes:

Vitamin C

Plant-based iron-rich foods get a real kick from products rich in vitamin C, because the vitamin deactivates the absorption-inhibiting phytic acid, for example. So cut fruits containing vitamin C into your muesli, pack lots of fresh peppers with your millet casserole, or drink orange juice with your meal.

Citric, malic, or lactic acid

Organic acids have a positive effect on iron absorption. Citric acid is found, for example, in lemons, kiwis, or oranges. However, malic acid is also found in cherries or apricots. The lactic acid found in fermented foods like sauerkraut is also wonderfully absorption-enhancing.

Amino acids

The proteins methionine and cysteine ​​are other accelerators for iron absorption. Both occur in soybeans, for example. Methionine is also mainly found in Brazil nuts, sesame, peas, or green leafy vegetables. You can also find cysteine ​​in sunflower seeds or whey products.

Sulfur-containing substances

The sulfur compounds contained in onion and leek plants also accelerate iron absorption.

Important: The nutritional values ​​of food vary depending on the cultivation method, the soil conditions, the respective variety, and also the storage method. With regional and organically cultivated products, however, you usually get the most nutritious goods and thus also good plant-based iron-rich foods.

Functions in the body

By the way, iron is essential for you and your well-being. It is required for numerous functions in the body. Above all, it is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the blood. If your iron values ​​are in the basement, you are not efficient. The first signs can then be:

  • fatigue
  • lack of energy
  • headache
  • paleness
  • hair loss and
  • difficulty concentrating

If you want to know exactly: These are the most important functions in the body for which your organism absolutely needs iron:

  • for the formation of hemoglobin, the blood pigment in the red blood cells. It binds the oxygen and distributes it to all organs throughout the body
  • for oxygen storage in the muscles for more performance
  • for the optimal function of the nerve cells and thus mental fitness
  • Strengthening of the immune system
Avatar photo

Written by John Myers

Professional Chef with 25 years of industry experience at the highest levels. Restaurant owner. Beverage Director with experience creating world-class nationally recognized cocktail programs. Food writer with a distinctive Chef-driven voice and point of view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gas-Inducing Foods: These 25 Foods To Avoid

Powdered Sugar Instead Of Sugar? How To Replace Correctly?