I am a vegetarian who is anemic and taking iron supplements prescribed by my doctor. But I hate the side effects and would rather get my iron through whole foods. Which are the best plant sources of iron, and how often should I eat these foods each day?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron is 8 milligrams (mg) daily for adult males and females over the age of 50; it is 18 mg daily for adult females up to age 50. However, this RDA is based on the assumption that the majority of iron intake would come from animal, or what is known as heme, iron sources. Because vegetarians get their iron from plant, or nonheme, iron sources, their iron needs may be twice as high as the current DRI. For example, a 40-year-old vegetarian woman may need up to 30 mg of iron each day derived from plant sources.
This higher intake for vegetarians can be met by planning carefully and getting at least one or two servings of iron at every meal and snack. The best nonheme sources of iron include fortified whole grains, beans, blackstrap molasses, dark leafy greens, nuts and raisins. To enhance iron absorption, be sure to pair an iron source with a food that is rich in vitamin C, such as tofu or broccoli. It should be noted that there are cases in which food sources are not sufficient and an iron supplement may be warranted.
You can pose your own question to our contributing editor, Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and wellness manager for Albuquerque Public School District. She is president of New Mexico’s Dietetic Association and is New Mexico’s 2009 Outstanding Dietitian of the Year. Please send your questions, along with your name and city/state/country, to editor Sandy Webster at [email protected]