Are you struggling to get your iron intake to optimal levels?
Are you feeling any symptoms that may be synonymous with an iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms produced by anemia — a decrease in the total amount of red blood cells in the blood, or a lowered ability of the blood to carry oxygen.
It’s nothing new to say that vegans are at a higher risk of being iron deficient, simply because non-heme iron (the one present in plants) comes in a less absorbable form. And while you can dramatically increase iron’s absorption rate, not everyone knows how to successfully do that.
In this article, we have looked at the top 3 vegan iron supplements on the market, and we’ve also explained some of the most common issues regarding iron supplements, and we’ve also included some tips on how to increase iron absorption.
What To Look For In A Vegan Iron Supplement
If you want to purchase a vegan iron supplement, I’d highly advise you to do more than simply pay attention to the ingredients on the label. It’s important to be aware of notions such as adequate iron intake, the different forms of iron, and the inclusion of iron-supporting ingredients.
Amount of Iron Per Serving
A label will clearly indicate how much iron the supplement contains per serving, and this is something you should focus on primarily.
It’s very common to find supplements that will deliver more iron than you need in a day, and that can be quite dangerous in the mid-long term. As you know, iron deficiency can leave you in an anemic state, however, the overconsumption of iron might be even more dangerous.
Iron overload can increase the risk of liver disease, heart attack or heart failure, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, and other dangerous conditions.
In some cases, it may even lead to premature death.
Also, you have to understand the following as well — men and women have different requirements when it comes to taking iron. The recommended daily allowance of iron is 8 mg (for men) to 18 mg (for women). That’s why if you’re a man, you need to opt for one on the lower end of that spectrum to avoid iron overload.
The Form of the Iron
If you analyze the different iron supplements available, it’s possible to see 4 main types of iron:
- Ferric iron: This is the least dissolvable type.
- Ferrous iron: This one is more absorbable than ferric iron, and comes in forms like ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, and more.
- Carbonyl iron: Perhaps the purest form. It’s the most absorbable type, and it’s easy on the stomach, leading to fewer complaints.
- Chelated iron: It’s a highly absorbable type of iron but it’s not that common in supplements, and it’s also considered to safe.
Iron supplements are also available in different delivery forms: capsules, pill, and liquid form.
The most convenient way to take your iron supplement is via capsules since you don’t need to mix it with anything and it generally doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste. However, some people have a lot of trouble swallowing capsules, so they might want to consider a different delivery form.
Vitamin C and B12
The more vitamins and minerals a supplement contains, the more nutrients you can get.
B12 is extremely important for vegans, so if you have a supplement that offers you some B12, it’s a win-win situation.
More importantly, if you have certain nutrients that support the absorption of others, it’s even better. Vitamin C is one of those nutrients since it improves the absorption of iron.
The same goes for everyday meals. If you’re having an iron-rich meal, you should do so while eating Vitamin C-rich foods like fruits and vegetables like guava, kiwi, spinach, kale, and broccoli.
The 4 Best Vegan Iron Supplements
Future Kind Vegan Iron + Vitamin C Supplement
Future Kind is a brand that specializes in creating supplements for vegans, by investing in formulas that can be optimally absorbed.
This supplement, for instance, uses a non-GMO patented chelated form of Iron (ferrous bisglycinate) called Ferrochel®, a highly-absorbable form of iron.
Combined with a Vitamin C whole food made from Acerola Cherry, the iron content becomes five times more absorbable than just taking iron in isolation.
Vitamin Code Whole Food Iron
Vitamin Code Raw Iron is a vegan-friendly supplement comprised of multiple whole foods (also known as the Raw Organic Fruit and Vegetable blend) that offers you several nutrients, including iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, calcium, folic acid, and phosphorus.
Considering the amount of iron in the supplement (22 mg), it’s clear that it’s not made for men, since men’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is set to 8 mg according to the National Institute of Health.
MegaFood Blood Builder Whole Food Iron
According to the manufacturer, this blood-building supplement is clinically proven to augment iron levels in your bloodstream.
In each serving, you’re able to find a healthy combination of nutrients, including iron, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin B12, all of which present in generous proportions.
With 26 mg of iron in one serving, this supplement seems to be designed for women, since women require more iron, specially during menstruation and pregnancy.
Solgar Gentle Iron
Solgar has been around since 1947 and they’re known for creating healthy vitamins and supplements with science-backed formulas, responsibly sourced ingredients, following the highest quality standards in the United States.
Not only do they avoid the use of artificial ingredients and fillers, but they also stick to in-house manufacturing, and do so in small batches to make use of the finest raw materials.
Akin to the first supplement on this list, it contains iron bisglycinate, a highly-absorbabel form of iron that is pretty soft on your stomach.
How Much Iron Do We Actually Need?
Just recently in the United States, the National Institute of Health has come up with new recommendations for iron.
According to them, vegetarians should have intakes 1.8x higher than the general population.
However, according to Jack Norris, the Executive Director of Vegan Outreach and Registered Dietician, that increase is not based on actual research done on vegetarians, but because the iron in plant foods is not as easily absorbed as the iron in animal foods.
As a result, several experts on vegetarian nutrition believe that these numbers are much higher than they should actually be.
Iron From Animals VS Iron From Plants
To better understand what’s necessary to ensure our bodies are getting enough iron, there are essentially two things we have to accept:
- Non-heme iron (the one derived from plants) is not as well absorbed as heme-iron (the one derived from animal foods).
- Vegans and vegetarians may have lower iron stores than omnivores.
That being said, it’s not that difficult to obtain iron on a plant-based diet.
Additionally, while vegans and vegetarians may have lower iron stores, research shows that they do not have higher rates of anemia. And while you may find research showing that vegetarians have less-than-normal stores, that might not be necessarily bad.
In fact, there’s evidence showing that low-normal iron stores lead to improved insulin function and lower rates of heart disease and cancer.
Can You Get Enough Iron On A Vegan Diet?
Yes, you can. You do that by eating plant foods that contain substantial amounts of iron.
Some of the best plant sources of iron include:
- Legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, and lima beans
- Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, oatmeal, brown rice
- Nuts and Seeds: cashews, pumpkin, squash, pine, sunflower, sesame
- Vegetables: tomato sauce, swiss chard, collard greens
But more important than eating all these foods is making sure you optimally absorb them.
How can you do that? Let’s see that below.
How To Absorb More Iron On A Vegan Diet
Eat Non-Heme Iron With Vitamin C Foods
Adding vitamin C to your iron-rich meals increases iron absorption by five times.
Some cultural foods already follow this pattern. Beans and rice with salsa, falafel with tomatoes, and hummus with lemon juice. If you’re eating foods such as beans, grains, and seeds, make sure to always include a vitamin C food for better iron absorption.
Certain iron foods like leafy greens, broccoli, and tomato juice already have vitamin C.
Avoid Coffee and Caffeinated Tea When Eating Your Meals
Caffeinated drinks (and decaffeinated coffee) contain tannins that inhibit iron absorption which is why you should only drink them an hour before or two hours after your meal.
Be Mindful With Foods With High-Oxalate Content
Foods with high-oxalate content (spinach) block iron absorption.
There isn’t a general consensus on this issue but with the existing variety of iron sources out there, you can always try some other foods instead of taking that risk.
Smaller Iron Portions Are Better Absorbed
Here’s an important thing to consider — when you eat high amounts of iron at one time, the percentage our bodies absorb is lower than when our meal contains only a few milligrams.
Plant-based foods may contain less iron than animal foods, but eating smaller amounts of iron-based foods throughout the day is an effective way to increase absorption.
This is true even if you take an iron supplement. Some nutritional experts recommend breaking an iron capsule in half and take half in the morning and a half at night with either meals or juice.
Should Vegans Take Iron Supplements?
If you eat a variety of iron-rich plant-based foods throughout the day and follow the tips I’ve just mentioned above, then it’s not that hard to get optimal amounts of iron in your diet, regardless of being a vegetarian or vegan.
At the same time, it’s important to understand that iron is one of the few nutrients in which a deficiency immediately affects your health and is easily noticeable.
If you notice some of the symptoms arising (anemia-related symptoms), then you should visit your family physician to get some blood work done. Iron levels can bounce back really quickly by making the right changes in your diet (increasing absorption), or by adding an iron supplement.
Before you go out and buy a supplement, ask yourself the following — “should I purchase this supplement or can I get its contents through a well-planned plant-based diet?”
Certain nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin D are difficult to obtain via fortified foods alone, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same for every other nutrient.
As such, before you decide to purchase an iron supplement, make sure you can actually improve your iron intake by implementing optimal dieting practices. (Some of which I have mentioned)
If your conclusion leads you to think that taking an iron supplement is the way to go, then consider some of the options we’ve just mentioned. They’re hands down, some of the best and most affordable solutions on the market.