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Dietary Sources of Iron for Vegetarians

Vegetarians need more iron in their diets than nonvegetarians because the iron in plant foods is not absorbed as efficiently as the iron in meat. Surprisingly, vegetarians tend to get substantially more iron in their diets. Vegans get the most because the dairy products that other vegetarians eat contain virtually no iron and tend to displace iron-containing plant foods.

You can’t go wrong with fruits and vegetables. One national campaign urges everyone to eat five servings of fruits or vegetables. Of course, they’re talking about small, half-cup servings. For most vegetarians, a goal of five half-cup servings would mean cutting back!

Iron is available everywhere you look in the plant world. Rich sources include whole or enriched breads and cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds, dark green, leafy vegetables, and some dried fruits. Vegetarians typically don’t have trouble getting enough iron. The following shows a selection of vegetarian foods and their iron values.

Vegetarian Sources of Iron
Food Iron Content (milligrams)
1 cup bran flakes 8.1
1 slice whole wheat bread 0.9
1 cup cooked oatmeal 1.6
1 cup steamed brown rice 1.0
1 cup cooked black beans 3.6
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans 4.7
1 cup lentil soup 2.7
1 cup cooked navy beans 4.5
1 cup cooked pinto beans 4.5
1 cup cooked soybeans 8.8
4 ounces tempeh 1.9
4 ounces firm tofu 1.8
1 cup vegetarian chili 3.5
2 tablespoons peanut butter 0.6
2 tablespoons almond butter 1.2
1 cup sunflower seeds 1.0
1 cup dried apricots 1.5
1/4 large cantaloupe 0.4
1 cup prunes 1.1
8 ounces prune juice 3.0
1.5 ounces raisins 0.9
1 cup diced watermelon 0.3
1 cup cooked bok choy 0.4
1 cup cooked broccoli 1.3
1 cup cooked brussels sprouts 1.9
1 cup cooked collard greens 0.9
1 cup cooked kale 1.2
2 tablespoons kelp (seaweed) 0.3
1 cup cooked mustard greens 1.0
1 cup cooked Swiss chard 4.0
1 cup cooked turnip greens 1.2
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses 7.0
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