Meatless Monday: Know your Iron Intake

“Meatless Monday is the concept of reducing our meat consumption. It’s a different approach for how we consume our protein sources. Meatless Mondays is not the stance that you need to become vegetarian or vegan either (but kudos if you are- it’s the most humane way to source your food).

Being mainly vegetarian, I am diligent about incorporating enough protein into my diet: beans, legumes, tofu, soy nut butter, almonds, walnuts and the like. I also eat eggs about twice a week.

However, I still fell into a vegetarian pitfall: a lack of iron in my diet and the end result was anemia.

I used to track my diet on My Fitness Pal and usually fell a little short on protein, so it really helped me track what I needed to consume more of (protein) and less of (carbohydrates).  These tracking apps are a helpful tools and I suggest using one for a month to see where you are at.  You can view if you are consuming excess sugar (proudly always very low on my sugar!), saturated fats, or salt.

 Iron is necessary for creating red blood cells that carry oxygen into your body.

“Iron is a component of a number of proteins… haemoglobin is important for transport of oxygen to tissues throughout the body.” [7]

Your body absorbs meat iron (heme iron) almost 3 times easier than it does from plant sources, so if you eat none-heme iron foods you need to incorporate absorption techniques.

Headaches, dizziness, difficulty exercising, and leg-muscle cramping I attributed to being a working mother, sinuses, the winter blahs, or  perhaps dehydration after exercise.

Turns out all of the above symptoms were interrelated.

I’ve been taking a multivitamin with iron and have been tackling my iron consumption head on. I’ve been using a cast iron skillet, incorporating vitamin C, Vitamin A and beta carotene along with any plant based iron consumption, and multivitamins.

I cannot believe how much better I feel! I should have gone to the doctor sooner. Do not put your health on hold.  I know we do this because of our busy schedules, but you have to take care of your health first! It makes us a better mother/wife, employee and friend if we are recharged and in optimal health.

If you suspect you have low iron ask your doctor for a blood test.  If you eat a plant based diet and have any symptoms, you need it checked.

You do not need to eat more meat to get plenty of iron, you just have to work iron into your diet appropriately.

Signs and symptoms of low iron can easily be dismissed as general fatigue or stress symptoms. Low iron can be the result of lack of iron in your diet or also absorption issues from an underlying disease, like Celiac disease. Do not ignore these symptoms:

 “Iron deficiency anemia symptoms may include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Frequent infections
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch
  • Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia
  • An uncomfortable tingling or crawling feeling in your legs (restless legs syndrome)” [1]

However, some forms of anemia occur due to  B12 or folate lacking in your system or being absorbed improperly.

“Vitamin deficiency anemia (or megaloblastic [MEG-uh-loh-BLASS-tik] anemia). Low levels of vitamin B12 or folate are the most common causes of this type of anemia.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia (or pernicious [pur-NISH-us] anemia). This type of anemia happens due to a lack of vitamin B12 in the body. Your body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells and to keep your nervous system working normally. This type of anemia occurs most often in people whose bodies are not able to absorb vitamin B12 from food because of an autoimmune disorder. It also can happen because of intestinal problems.

You also can get this type of anemia if the foods you eat don’t have enough vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found in foods that come from animals. Fortified breakfast cereals also have vitamin B12. ” [6]

The Good News? You can change this fairly easily if low intake is simply your issue.

If absorption is an issue or an underlying medicial condition, your doctor needs consulted for steps to take.

Chart Courtesy of Of course, if pregnant or nursing,  have an pre-existing health issues, or on any other medications please check with your doctor first!

Age Infants and children Women Pregnant Breastfeeding
7 to 12 months 11 mg n/a n/a n/a
1 to 3 years 7 mg n/a n/a n/a
4 to 8 years 10 mg n/a n/a n/a
9 to 13 years 8 mg n/a n/a n/a
14 to 18 years n/a 15 mg 27 mg 10mg
19 to 50 years n/a 18 mg 27 mg 9 mg
51+ years n/a 8 mg n/a n/a



Below are some tips to keep your Meatless Meal options but Increase Iron Intake:

You do NOT have to start consuming massive amounts of meat. Meat consumption equals more pollution. Of course, never self-diagnose, schedule a visit with your doctor as these symptoms can also be signs of other issues.

1. “Drink tea and coffee between meals, not with meals. The tannin can reduce iron absorption so drink tea between meals. Coffee contains less tannin than tea but still needs to be considered as it has other compounds that reduce iron absorption.” [2]

2. Avoid Iron absorption disrupting foods when consuming your meals.  Both calcium and tannins (found in tea and coffee) reduce iron absorption. Tea, coffee, and calcium supplements should be used several hours before a meal that is high in iron 5.” [4]    “Antacids can also inhibit the absorption of iron, as stomach acid is necessary for this process.” [3]

3. Add Vitamin C to your Iron meals: “Adding a vitamin C source to a meal increases non-heme iron absorption up to six-fold which makes the absorption of non-heme iron as good or better than that of heme iron.” [4]

4.  Increase your intake of Iron rich foods. Leafy Greens in particular, like spinach or swiss chard. Lentils, tofu, and chickpeas to name a few.

“Examples of iron-rich foods include meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables and iron-fortified foods.” [1]5

5. Cook with a cast-iron skillet. Tofu, tempeh, (or eggs) with spinach or kale and a glass of Orange juice would be a great iron rich breakfast.

6. Oatmeal and Cream of Wheat both contain a good dose of iron, choose low sugar options and add blueberries for vitamin C and flax seed for lignans and Omega-3’s. Also look for Iron fortified cereals.

image  Black Beans, Tofu, and Rice with Sweet Peppers

7.  Beans, Lentils, Legumes. Just one cup of black bean soup contains 26% of your Daily Iron. Pair it with vitamin C to enhance absorption. A salad topped with red and yellow bell peppers or broccoli should do the trick.

8.  When you do choose meat, always choose Grass-Fed beef. It contains more nutrients and vitamins than non-grass fed meat. Try to limit your consumption of meat for the environment. 

9. Multivitamin with Iron or Iron Supplement.


Did you Know YOU Can Help to Save our Earth by Limiting Meat Consumption?!

  • “Reduce Greenhouse Gases —Studies show that meat production produces significantly more greenhouse gases than vegetables, including carbon dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide – the three main contributing sources of greenhouse gas. [5]
  • Minimize Water Usage—The water needs of livestock are much greater than those of vegetables and grains.

– Approximately 1,850 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of beef. – Approximately 39 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of vegetables.” [5]


Click here for a  link to The Vegetarian’s Resource Groups information on Iron. It contains a great table of iron-rich vegetarian foods:



Disclaimer: This article is not regulated or approved by the FDA.  Information is cited from sources below. As always, if pregnant or nursing, on any medications or under doctors care for any disease, illness, or condition consult your doctor before any dietary changes or prior to starting any vitamin supplement or regiment.



1.)  Mayo Clinic Staff: Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia. Accessed February 20, 2016.

2.) Iron Boosting Tips and Tricks. Accessed February 20, 2016. 

3.) Bruso, Jessica, Demand Media: Natural Ways to Boost Iron Levels In Your Body.

4. Mangels, Reed PhD, RD Iron in the Vegan Diet.

5. Meatless Monday Facts.  Accessed Feb. 2016.

6. Anemia Fact Sheet. Accessed February 22, 2016.

7. Australian Government Ministry of Health. Nutrient Reference Values. Accessed February 20, 2016.

6 thoughts on “Meatless Monday: Know your Iron Intake

  1. informedAudrey says:

    Great article 🙂 I was going to do a piece on iron consumption on meatless diets too 🙂 didn’t know about the absorption effectiveness until I switched diets! Even people I know didn’t know to eat vitamin c and no caffeine while eating, appealing really. Good job! 👍👍


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