10 vegetarian foods rich in iron

10 Jun 2023

Are you vegetarian? Or perhaps just looking to replace some of the meat in your diet?

Want to know which vegetarian foods are also high in iron?

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia worldwide.1 So check our top ten foods which are high in iron and therefore a great a source of this vital mineral for vegetarians.

Why do I need iron in my diet?

Whether you choose to eat meat or not, we all need iron in our diet, for our bodies to function well and repair themselves.

An essential mineral, iron is critical in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.2

Insufficient levels of iron in the body can otherwise lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

How much iron do I need?

The amount of iron needed each day varies, depending on your gender and age:

  • 7mg a day for men over 18
  • 8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50
  • 7mg a day for women over 503

Is it harder for vegetarians to find foods high in iron?

In a nutshell – both yes and no!

While people connect a lack of iron to vegetarian food, iron is actually more abundant in the vegetarian foods that meat eaters consume than they might otherwise realise.

In fact, the general UK meat-eating population get only a quarter of their iron from meat and fish, while the remaining three quarters of their dietary iron comes from cereals, bread, fruit and vegetables.4

So if you are looking to replace that one quarter of your iron intake, then here are some foods that you should look out for.

The best iron rich foods for vegetarians

1. Soya – tofu and tempeh

Soya and the foods made from it are great sources of iron.

You buy soya beans whole (sometimes as edamame beans) or else find them made into products such as soya chunks, mince, or tofu and tempeh.

2. Lentils

The humble lentil is actually quite nutrient rich.

While incredibly rich in iron, it is also full of significant amounts of protein, fibre, folate and manganese.5

This makes lentils a great all-rounder, and an incredibly versatile source of iron for vegetarians.

3. Beans and legumes

Baked beans, kidney beans, white beans and peas are other brilliant sources of iron for vegetarians.

Chickpeas and black-eyed peas win here though – they have got the highest iron-content of all the beans.

Except soya beans, which are so iron-rich we have put them in a category of their own at #1!6

4. Nuts

Cashews, pine nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts - they are all great sources of iron for vegetarians.

Cooking these may damage some of their nutrients, so choose raw options where possible.

And remember that while they have many beneficial properties, nuts are also high in fats, so bear in mind the portion sizes.

5. Seeds

Pumpkin, linseeds, hemp and sesame are very iron rich.

And so are the products derived from them. Don’t forget that tahini, made from sesame seeds, is an ingredient in hummous and other products, so there are other ways to get iron from seeds that you may not have realised.

6. Green leafy vegetables

It’s not all about the spinach for this one.

Gram for gram, spinach, kale and other greens can contain more iron than their red meat counterparts.

The wonderful thing about these vegetables high in iron is that they also contain vitamin C, which makes absorbing all that iron even easier.

7. Dried fruits

Apricots are the big iron sources in the dried fruit category. But dried peaches, prunes, figs and even raisins are also high in iron.

8. Dark chocolate

Yes you read that right! Dark chocolate. This one surprises many people. The darker and the less sweetened the chocolate, the more iron you will be getting.

So the occasional chocolate indulgence may not make you feel quite so guilty now!

9. Fortified cereals

Plenty of cereals are iron rich by their very nature, and plenty of breakfast and other cereals have also been fortified to help us get the iron we need.

10. Vitamin C

Ok, vitamin C does contain any iron at all. But vitamin C can really make a significant difference to your iron absorption.

Green leafy veg contain vitamin C already, so alone they provide readily absorbable iron.

Adding citrus fruits, peppers, courgettes, onions to your cooking, or drinking a citrus drink alongside your meal can help your body capture the iron and turn it into iron your body can better use and store.7 Check out these two delicious vegetarian recipes packed with iron. Shop Iron

Last updated: 5 February 2021

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Donia Hilal

Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist

Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018

Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition

Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.

Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.