I eat a vegan diet, should I supplement with iron?

Q: I eat a vegan diet, should I supplement with iron?

A:

It can be more challenging to obtain enough iron as a vegan because the form of iron found in plant sources (non-haem iron) is not as well absorbed by the body as the iron obtained from animal sources (haem iron). However, there are plentiful sources of iron in vegan foods such as pulses, legumes, leafy greens and tofu.

One study reported that the average iron content of female vegan and omnivorous diets were 14.1mg and 12.6mg per day respectively. However, whilst a vegan diet may look to contain almost as much iron as a diet containing meat, a vegan is still at a greater risk of iron deficiency, and iron status as measured with blood tests, is often reduced in those eating a vegan diet. In terms of its bioavailability, non-haem iron is absorbed much less efficiently by the body than haem iron and this is what is most likely responsible for the lower blood levels of iron seen in individuals following a vegan diet.

While not all dietary iron is absorbed equally, some nutrients can enhance your body’s ability to absorb it. One of these nutrients is vitamin C. Therefore consuming foods or drinks rich in vitamin C alongside foods containing iron can help to increase your body’s absorption.

Irrespective of dietary preferences, women during their menstrual years, and young girls in particular, should consider supplementing their diet with iron as their need for iron is greater. It is best to use a multivitamin and mineral supplement, appropriate for your age and gender, to ensure optimum intake of all nutrients. However, if you know that you have low iron levels, consider supplementing additional iron on top.

It’s important not to over supplement iron as in excess it can become damaging. However, if you are a young woman who is vegan, you are likely to have a higher iron requirement than most. Regular testing is recommended.  

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