If you're struggling to get enough iron, but don't want to consume more meat, eat a variety of vegetables. Though few vegetarian foods are considered a rich source of iron, meaning they provide more than 20 percent of the recommended daily value, vegetables can contribute to your daily intake. As an added bonus, vegetables have vital vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants needed to maintain your overall health.
1. Iron Requirements
According to the Institute of Medicine, women ages 19 to 50 need at least 18 milligrams of iron per day. If you're pregnant, you need 27 milligrams and if you're breast-feeding, you'll need only 9 milligrams. Depending on gender, children up to age 13 need anywhere from 7 to 11 milligrams per day and children ages 14 to 18 need between 11 to 15 milligrams. Iron is an essential part of the hemoglobin molecule and aids transport of oxygen to cells. It also plays a role in cell growth and enzyme function. Without enough iron, you may experience fatigue and decreased immune function, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Legumes are a class of vegetables that provide you with a good source of vegetarian iron and protein. One cup of boiled soybeans has 8.8 milligrams of iron, 1 cup of boiled lentils has 6.6 milligrams, 1 cup of boiled kidney beans has 5.2 milligrams and 1 cup of boiled navy beans, black beans or pinto beans provides between 3.6 and 4.5 milligrams. Raw snap peas and snow peas also give you iron, providing about 1.31 milligrams per cup. These crunchy peas make a good snack with hummus. You may also lightly saute them for a side dish.
3. Leafy Green Vegetables
Eating more leafy, green vegetables also helps you meet your iron needs. Half a cup of cooked beet greens provides 2.7 milligrams of iron, 1/2 cup of cooked Swiss chard provides 2 milligrams, 1 cup of raw kale provides 1.1 milligrams of iron and 1 cup of raw spinach provides 0.8 milligrams. Try spinach and kale raw in green salads or wilt any of these greens as a nutritious side dish. You can also chop these veggies and add them to soups, chills, stews and stir fries to get extra iron into your meal.
4. Roots and Squash
Root vegetables and winter squash make healthy side dishes or ingredients in entrees such as curries and stews. A medium, 3-inch baked potato with the skin has between 1.2 and 1.8 milligrams of iron. Half a cup of cooked sweet potato gives you 0.9 milligrams and 1/2 cup of cooked beets gives you 0.7 milligrams. From 1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin, butternut squash or acorn squash, you'll get 0.6 to 0.7 milligrams of iron.
5. Cruciferous Vegetables
If you like cruciferous vegetables, you're in luck because they'll help you get the iron you need. Eating 1 cup of raw broccoli gives you 0.8 milligrams of iron, 1/2 cup of cooked brussel sprouts gives 0.9 milligrams and 1 cup raw pok choi, also know as Chinese cabbage or bok choy, gives you 1.1 milligrams.
- Bowes and Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used; Jean A. T. Pennington and Judith Spungen Douglass
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron
- MayoClinic.com: Beans and Other Legumes: Types and Cooking Tips
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