Meat is the most common source of iron in a typical diet.
Not everyone eats meat however, and a lot of people are looking to cut down on red meat intake.
So how do you get the iron your body needs if you fall into the no-meat category? There are iron-rich plants available, but your body doesn’t absorb the mineral from them like it does from meat. Only 2% to 20% of the iron in plants (called non-heme) finds its way into the digestive system, compared to 15% to 35% of the iron in animal foods (called heme).
There’s an easy solution to this imbalance: add more vitamin C to your diet. It boosts the amount of non-heme iron your body absorbs by as much as six fold.
The following are iron-rich plant foods, paired with a produce lush in vitamin C. While these pairs go well together, you can mix and match them to taste – you’ll still unlock that bounty of iron.
Spinach (Iron) + Red Bell Peppers (C)
These two common veggies are so flexible, they can practically find their way into any dish you prepare. Raw, partnered in a spinach salad, or cook spinach into a stuffed red bell pepper.
Even something as simple as sliced peppers sautéed with spinach is healthy as it flavourful; add olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper for a punch.
Kale (Iron) + Oranges (C)
This unlikely combo surprisingly goes well together, particularly blended in a smoothie.
Other options include throwing in orange wedges onto a kale salad, mix them in a stir fry, or slice some oranges alongside those kale chips when it’s snack time.
Black Beans (Iron) + Cabbage (C)
The most delicious ways to get these two veggies working in harmony is in black bean tacos, topped with vinegar-based slaw.
Black bean-stuffed cabbage rolls are another great option, as is adding whole, chilled black beans to your favorite slaw.
Lentils (Iron) + Brussels Sprouts (C)
This combo goes very well in your classic salad, or you can serve Brussels sprouts grilled or oven-roasted over seasoned lentils.
Shaved Brussels sprouts and lentils also make a great filling for lettuce cups!
- Cook with Iron – Literally: Using iron surfaces to cook your food will expose the meal to the mineral, boosting your intake. Acidic foods with higher moisture content work particularly well, like tomato sauce. One study found that the iron content in spaghetti sauce increased nine fold after being cooked in a cast iron pot.
- Steer Clear from Foods that Impede Iron Intake: Tannins (found in tea and coffee) and calcium both interfere with iron intake. If you’re trying to add more iron to your diet, avoid drinking a lot of coffee or tea, and don’t take calcium supplements before trying one of our recommended iron-vitamin C combos.