Iron is an essential nutrient for all of us, as it is essential for formation of hemoglobin, which is the transporter of oxygen to different parts (tissues) of our body, without which we can not survive.Our diet (may it vegetarian or non vegetarian diet) should not lack iron. Out of approximately 4 grams of iron present in adult human body two third is present as hemoglobin and the rest in different organs of our body.
If you are a vegetarian it is important for you to understand that you need proper planning of your diet to avoid certain nutritional deficiency disorders which are more common among vegetarians in compare to non-vegetarians, such as iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, omega 3 fatty acids deficiency, protein deficiency (because plant proteins are biologically incomplete) etc. Among all the nutritional deficiencies iron deficiency is a common problem among vegans.
Why vegetarians may suffer from iron deficiency?
Vegetarians suffer from iron deficiency due to various reasons. Iron is present in diet in two different forms, haeme form and inorganic form. Haeme form of iron is better absorbed (up to 35% is absorbed and mainly present in animal foods) and inorganic form is less absorbed (only approximately 5% is absorbed). In vegetables (plant foods), iron is present mainly in inorganic form (ferric form), which must be converted to organic or ferrous form before it can be absorbed from gastrointestinal tract, hence lesser percentage is absorbed.
Vegetarian diet also has phytates (especially in maize and wheat) and phosphates which form complexes with iron and inhibit absorption of iron by reducing its availability for absorption. The absorption of haeme form of iron is less affected by other factors.
Deficiency of iron causes anemia, which is common among pregnant women, people with malabsorption syndrome and vegetarians (if diet is not properly planned). Anemia can have several ill-health effects on us, such as breathlessness, growth retardation (among children and adolescent), headache, loss of appetite or anorexia, lack of sleep (insomnia), generalized weakness or lack of stamina etc.
List of iron rich vegetarian foods:
- Spinach, broccoli, asparagus, alfalfa, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard greens, potato, sweet potato.
- Millets, oats, quinoa.
- Lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, chick peas.
- Almonds, dates, hazelnuts, cashew nuts, raisins.
- Figs, watermelon, banana, apricots.
Make sure to add the above plant food items in your daily diet if you are a vegetarian to avoid iron deficiency. It is not practical to add every food item mentioned above. Mix different food items according to availability of it in your locality or nearby grocery stores.