Are you trying to find a good iron pill but worried there might be animal products in it? That makes sense. Animal products can be in lots of stuff, even pills. But don't worry, there are iron pills for vegans that you can pick from.
Getting enough iron is important if you don't eat meat because sometimes you might forget about this nutrient. If you plan a bit and check what you eat, it's not hard to get the iron your body needs from plants.
Sometimes, taking an iron pill can also help you get enough of this important stuff. But before you change what pills you take, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Types of Iron: Heme Vs. Non-heme
There are two kinds of iron in foods: heme iron and non-heme iron:
Heme iron: This type of iron is found in animal foods, like meat and other things from animals. It's the kind of iron that your body absorbs the easiest. If you eat animal foods, your body can use about 14 to 18% of the iron from them.
Non-heme iron: This iron comes from both plants and animals. If you eat a vegetarian diet, your body can use about 5% to 12% of the iron from these foods.
Even though your body absorbs heme iron better than non-heme, you can still get enough iron from a plant-based diet. You just need to eat a mix of foods that are rich in iron and find ways to help your body use the iron you eat.
Importance of Iron Intake
Iron is super important in our diets because it helps prevent a condition called iron-deficiency anemia. About 6% of people in the U.S. have this anemia, so it's not just a problem for vegans, but for a lot of people.
Our bodies need iron to stay healthy and work well. It helps make red blood cells, gives us energy, and helps us take in oxygen. Since your body needs iron every day, it's important to get enough from what you eat or by taking a supplement.
Food sources of iron:
- Dark chocolate
If you plan your meals well, a diet without meat can still give you enough iron. However some plant-based diets might not have a lot of iron. Checking what nutrients you eat can help you know if you're getting the right amount of iron and if you might need a supplement.
If your diet doesn't give you all the iron your body needs, taking a supplement is important. It helps fill the gap between the iron you get from food and what your body needs every day.
Increasing Iron Absorption in a Vegan Diet
Because vegan diets only have non-heme iron, it's crucial to pay attention to foods that either help or hinder iron absorption.
Eating foods with lots of vitamin C along with iron-rich foods helps your body absorb more iron. Some vegan iron supplements even include vitamin C in their mix to boost absorption. Foods high in vitamin C that can enhance your body's iron absorption include:
- Sweet red peppers
So, if you're following a vegan diet, it's a good idea to include these vitamin C-rich foods with your iron sources to make sure your body gets the most out of the iron you consume.
Foods to Avoid When Taking Iron Supplements
Certain foods can help your body absorb iron better, but some can get in the way. Tannins, a kind of polyphenol found in things like coffee, tea, and wine, can stop your body from taking in iron.
Try not to have coffee, tea, or wine when you're taking your vegan iron supplements. Also, things with calcium, like soy milk, tofu, and calcium supplements, might make it harder for your body to absorb iron.
The best times to take your iron supplement could be right when you wake up or before bed, depending on your routine. But because iron supplements might affect how certain medications work, it's always smart to check with your doctor before changing anything with your medications or supplements.
Picking the Best Vegan Iron Supplement
When searching for a vegetarian or vegan iron supplement, pay attention to the type of iron used in the supplement. Some supplements might use iron from animals, which isn't suitable for those looking for plant-based options.
Iron supplements vary in dosages and strengths. Make sure you know how much iron your body needs, so you can pick a supplement that's right for you. It's important not to go over the recommended limit or take a supplement if you don't need it. The recommended dietary allowances for all adults are listed below.
One more tip for choosing the best vegan iron supplement is to check how it's made. Some iron supplements come in a form that your body can absorb more easily, speeding up the time it takes to process it. This makes it more effective than other forms.
Recommended Amounts of Iron for Vegans
Your body requires a specific amount of nutrients from the food you eat. The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine determines this amount by figuring out the average daily intake that meets the nutrient needs of 97 to 98% of healthy individuals. This set amount is called the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA.
The RDA for iron is as follows:
- Adult men aged 19-50 years: 8 mg
- Adult women aged 19-50 years: 18 mg
- Pregnant individuals: 27 mg
- Lactating individuals aged 19-50 years: 9 mg
- Women 51+ after menopause: 8 mg
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), which is the maximum amount recommended daily, is 45 mg for everyone over 14 years old and lower for children. Unless advised otherwise by a healthcare provider, this is the maximum daily intake anyone should have. Going beyond this amount can have harmful effects on health. It's important to note that the UL applies only to supplements and not to food sources of iron.
Since non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed as heme iron, some studies suggest that vegans and vegetarians should consume 1.8 times more dietary iron than people who eat animal foods.
Types of Vegan Iron Supplements
There are various types of iron supplements, and some common formulations include ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferric citrate, and ferric sulfate—all of which are plant-based and contain non-heme iron.
Ferrous iron is a popular choice for iron supplements because it's more easily absorbed than ferric iron.
Here are some common non-chelated forms:
- Ferrous Sulfate
- Ferrous Gluconate
- Ferric Citrate
- Ferric Sulfate
Chelated iron is believed to be gentler on the digestive system as it passes through the GI tract more easily. However, it may still cause digestive side effects. Chelated iron is available as a supplement but is not typically found in food.
Consider these factors when choosing a vegetarian or vegan iron supplement. Price may also play a role, but given the variety of iron supplements available, you should be able to find one that suits your needs.
Side Effects of Iron Supplements
Although iron supplements can be beneficial in meeting daily iron needs, they come with certain drawbacks. At times, taking iron supplements may lead to issues such as constipation, nausea, and digestive discomfort. Furthermore, these supplements can interact with other medications like antibiotics, antacids, and thyroid medication. It is crucial to consult with your healthcare provider before incorporating any supplement into your routine.
Choosing the right iron supplement is essential for meeting your nutritional needs, particularly on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Consider factors such as the type of iron, formulation, and potential side effects. Always be mindful of balancing nutrient intake from various sources and consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice and to address potential interactions with medications.