Vegan Sources of Iron and Calcium: How to Get Enough on a Plant-Based Diet

People on a vegan diet must replace the nutrients in animal products and meat by increasing their intake of beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

Studies have shown that veganism has several health benefits thanks to the increased intake of antioxidants, fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E. These nutrients reduce the risk of certain cancers and type 2 diabetes while promoting a healthy heart.

However, people on a vegan diet frequently have insufficient intake of some other vital vitamins and nutrients, like vitamin B12, iron, iodine, zinc, and calcium. Getting the right amount of nutrients on a vegan diet may seem challenging, but proper planning makes it possible.

How to Get Enough Iron with a Plant-Based Diet

Your body requires iron for several essential functions and uses it to make hemoglobin and myoglobin. These two proteins transport oxygen to various parts of the body. Iron also helps increase energy levels, improves immune function, ensures a healthy pregnancy, and helps athletes improve athletic performance.

When your iron intake is low, your body depletes its stores which can lead to deficiency anemia. That means your red blood cells shrink and cannot provide oxygen to the body. The symptoms of anemia include fatigue, memory fuzziness, constantly feeling cold, and gastrointestinal issues.

Meat and seafood contain heme iron, which the body absorbs easily. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based sources but isn’t as easily absorbed by the body, meaning you must eat double the quantity. Vitamin C allows for better absorption, so eat foods rich in the vitamin. Also, avoid coffee and tea because they inhibit iron absorption.

Additionally, evidence shows that cooking in a cast iron pot increases your food’s iron content, so that’s not a myth.

The daily requirement for adult men and women is 8mg and 18 mg on a meat-based diet. On a vegan diet, it doubles to 16mg and 36mg.

Vegan Sources of Iron

Getting the required daily iron on a vegan diet is less complicated than you thought. Here’s a list of the foods and how much iron they contain.

Legumes – All legumes like beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas contain iron, with lentils containing the most at 6.6 mg per cooked cup. Legumes are also complex carbohydrates high in dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

Soy-based proteins – Soy products like tofu and tempeh also contain iron. Expect 4.48 mg of iron from a cup of raw tempeh and 8% of your daily intake from a piece of extra firm tofu.

Nuts and seeds – The nuts and seeds with the most iron include pumpkin, sesame, hemp, flax, chia seeds, and cashews. Eat them in butter form or as unroasted and unsalted nuts and seeds. Substitute eggs with hemp or chia seeds for an iron boost when baking.

Dark, leafy vegetables – Fresh or frozen kale, collards, Swiss Chard, and bok choy contain anything between .99 to 2.15 mg per cooked cup, so add them to your foods to enhance your iron intake. Remember cooking them increases their iron content.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage – Add between .52mg to 1.86mg by adding these cruciferous vegetables into your foods.

Potatoes and whole grains – Most of the iron in potatoes is in the skin, so cook one medium potato with the skin on to get 1.7 mg of iron. Whole grains have the most iron content. Add a cooked cup of quinoa, spelt, oats, or brown rice to add between 1.13mg and 3.2mg to a meal. You can also get iron from enriched grain-based foods like pasta and bread, but read the nutrition information.

White button and enoki mushrooms – Not all mushrooms contain iron, but a cup of cooked button mushrooms will provide you with 2.7 mg. Get 1.28 mg from 100g of Enoki mushrooms.

Dried fruit – Apricots, figs, raisins, and dates all contain iron, so include them in your meals. For example, half a cup of raisins contains 2.13 mg, while the same number of figs is 1.5mg and dates 0.75mg.

Other Sources – One tablespoon of black strap molasses provides 20% of your daily iron requirements, but add small amounts to food because it’s sweet. One ounce of dark chocolate with a minimum of 45% cacao solids contains 3.4 mg. Substitute fresh tomato with unsalted tomato paste in soups, stews, etc.; it makes food tasty and contains .47mg of iron in every tablespoon.

How to Get Enough Calcium with a Plant-Based Diet

You might have heard milk is the best source of calcium, but that’s not true. As a vegan, you have several options to ensure you maintain a calcium-rich diet.

Calcium is essential because it helps maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. However, it also helps the heart, muscles, circulatory system, and nerves function correctly.

Calcium needs vary according to your age and sex. Most adults need 1000 mg daily. However, this increases for women over 50 and men over 71 to 1,200 mg daily. The body also requires vitamin D to absorb calcium. Like dairy products, several plant-based products like milk, some cereals, and orange juices are fortified with calcium.

Vegan Sources of Calcium

As a vegan, you cannot get calcium from dairy products or fish like salmon and sardines. However, there is no shortage of plant foods abundant in calcium. So, besides calcium-fortified juices and cereals, here’s what else to include in your meals.

Nuts and seeds – Almond nut butter provides the most calcium. Versatile tahini offers 42mg. Almonds have the highest calcium content at 75mg in a serving (20 almonds), and hazelnuts have 56mg.

Amaranth – The ancient grain amaranth provides 80mg of calcium per quarter cup (dry) and is an excellent antioxidant. Swap it for oats or quinoa now and then.

Beans – Looking for a calcium boost, then white beans have 132mg per cup. Kidney beans (93mg) and chickpeas (99mg) are also ideal to incorporate into foods for their calcium.

Minimally processed soy products – Get ten percent of your recommended daily calcium intake with a three-ounce piece of tofu. A 2.5-ounce serving of tempeh provides 78mg of calcium, and one cup of edamame beans is 9% of your daily requirement. Soy milk contains calcium and is fortified, ensuring one-third of your daily requirement, which is the same as cow’s milk.

Blackstrap molasses – One tablespoon contains 200 mg of calcium, but you shouldn’t consume it daily because it’s too sugary. Instead, incorporate small amounts into dips, granola, etc.

Greens – The best greens to incorporate into meals for their calcium boost include broccoli and okra. A little over a cup contains 112mg and 77mg of calcium, respectively. You can find some calcium in other greens like bok choy, kale, and collard greens, but nowhere near the values of broccoli and okra..

Fortified plant milk – Unsweetened almond, cashew, and soy milk all contain calcium. Depending on the brand, a cup of any of these can provide up to 30% of your daily requirement for calcium.

Final Take

Getting enough iron and calcium is easier than you thought on o a vegan diet without a supplement. However, if you feel your levels are low, get a blood test and consult your doctor for the best way to take iron and calcium supplements.

FAQs

What vegan sources of iron and calcium can I add to my diet?

You can get iron from blackstrap molasses, dark chocolate, unsalted tomato paste, and fortified plant milk. Calcium comes from nuts and seeds (almonds are the best), amaranth, beans, minimally processed soy products (like tofu or tempeh), blackstrap molasses, broccoli, and okra greens, as well as fortified plant milk.

How much calcium do I need per day?

Most adults need 1000 mg daily; however, this increases to 1,200 mg daily for women over 50 and men over 71. Vitamin D is also essential for absorbing calcium into the body.

Where can I get the most iron?

Blackstrap molasses is an excellent source of iron, offering 3.5 mg in one tablespoon. Dark chocolate contains 7 mg per ounce, and unsalted tomato paste provides 2.9 mg in a quarter cup. Fortified plant milk also contains some iron, depending on the brand; however, it’s not as much as blackstrap molasses or dark chocolate offers. 

What other vegan sources of minerals are there?

Aside from iron and calcium, vegans can find many other essential minerals from plant-based sources, such as zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and selenium. Zinc can be found in legumes, nuts, and seeds like pumpkin, sesame, and hemp. Potassium is plentiful in potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, and bananas. Magnesium is abundant in dark leafy greens like spinach, almonds, and avocado as well as whole grains. Phosphorous can be found in dairy-free milk and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and black beans. Selenium is also packed into Brazil nuts – just one or two a day provides your recommended daily allowance.

Can I take iron or calcium supplements on a vegan diet?

Yes, but you must speak with a health professional first. They may recommend other methods, such as adding more vegan sources of iron and calcium into your meals or increasing the amount of Vitamin D in your diet. Consulting with a doctor is always the best option for taking supplements.

What are some vegan sources of zinc?

You can find zinc in legumes, nuts, and seeds like pumpkin, sesame, and hemp. Other good sources include whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, dark chocolate, and tempeh. Seaweed is also packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including zinc.

Where can I get selenium?

Selenium is abundant in Brazil nuts – just one or two provide you with your daily recommended value! You can also find it in other plant-based sources such as oats, lentils, and sunflower seeds. Seaweed is another excellent source of selenium.

What is the best way to get enough iron and calcium on a vegan diet?

Eating a variety of whole plant-based foods is the best way to ensure you get enough iron and calcium on a vegan diet. Some great sources of iron include blackstrap molasses, dark chocolate, unsalted tomato paste, and fortified plant milk. Calcium can be found in nuts and seeds (almonds are the best), amaranth, beans, minimally processed soy products, broccoli greens, okra greens, and fortified plant milk. Vitamin D is also essential for absorbing calcium into the body, so it’s vital to ensure you get enough from food sources or supplements if needed. Consulting your doctor is the best way to ensure you meet your dietary needs.

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