27 October 2006

Iron In Vegetarian

Iron is vital in any healthy vegetarian diet. Iron is a trace element needed by the body for blood-formation. It is an essential component of haemoglobin, transporting oxygen in the blood throughout the body. It also contributes to many metabolic reactions. Iron deficiency is the most common mineral nutritional deficiency in the USA and in Britain, although vegetarians are no more likely to be iron-deficient than meat-eaters.

Sources of Iron in a Vegetarian

Dietary iron comes in 2 different forms - heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron exists only in animal tissues, whilst plant foods contain only non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is less easily absorbed by the body than heme iron. The amount of iron absorbed ranges from about 1-10 percent from plant foods and 10-20 percent from animal food.

Good sources of iron for vegetarians include wholegrain cereals/flours, leafy green vegetables (eg. collards, kale, broccoli and other dark greens), eggs, blackstrap molasses, legumes (eg. lentils, red beans), apricots and figs.

Iron Uptake in a Vegetarian

PLUS. Iron absorption (esp. of non-heme iron) is increased when a source of vitamin C such as orange juice, cauliflower, dark leafy vegetables, tomatoes or citrus fruit is consumed with the iron-rich food.
MINUS. Phytates and oxalates in certain plant foods (eg. spinach, rhubarb, chard, and beet greens) may inhibit iron absorption, as does tannin (in tea). Too much wheat bran may also inhibit iron absorption.