The 12 Best Iron-Rich Vegan Foods, Ranked By a Dietitian

Iron is an essential mineral that many worry is lacking in a plant-based diet. It’s important for everyone to get enough iron, but can a vegan diet meet your daily iron needs? Can vegans get enough iron to address and prevent iron-deficiency anemia, support healthy energy levels, and replenish iron lost after menstruation or donating blood?

Fortunately, the answer is yes (with a small caveat). As a vegan registered dietitian, I’ll discuss the best iron-rich vegan foods, explain how to get enough iron as a vegan, and provide strategies for boosting iron absorption in this post.

Bowl of lentil soup on a wooden table with text overlay reading "the 12 best iron-rich vegan foods"

Why do we need iron?

Iron is a mineral required for the production of hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein and an essential component of red blood cells. Without adequate hemoglobin levels, red blood cells aren’t able to transport enough oxygen around the body. 

Iron is also required for the production of myoglobin, a protein that supplies oxygen to muscles, and for the production of some hormones. 

A condition called iron-deficiency anemia can develop if the body goes long enough without adequate dietary iron. Anemia can result in the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Pica (cravings for non-food items like ice or dirt)
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat

When referring to the levels of iron in the blood, you’ll see the term “ferritin” used instead of iron. Ferritin is the form of iron stored in the blood and is a marker of the body’s total iron stores.

RELATED: The Most Helpful Blood Tests for Vegans

The 12 best iron-rich vegan foods

It’s important for people following any type of dietary pattern, including vegans, to regularly include iron-rich foods in their diet. 

Here, I’ve included vegan foods that provide at least 4 milligrams of iron per serving. Foods with this much iron are considered “excellent” or “high” sources of iron by the FDA, which defines an excellent source of a specific nutrient as providing at least 20% of the recommended Daily Value for that nutrient.

For example, the recommended Daily Value of iron for adults is 18 milligrams. A food that provides at least 4 milligrams (20% of 18) is “high” in iron.

Of note, a typical serving size for beans is ½ cup. However, plant-based meals tend to include bigger servings of beans and legumes, so I’ve included them in 1-cup portions below to reflect real-life consumption.

But these foods aren’t the only plant-based sources of iron; I’ve also included some honorable mentions with less than 4 milligrams of iron per serving in the next section.

The vegan foods highest in iron include:

  1. White beans (1 cup) – 8 mg
  2. Plant-based protein powder (1-2 scoops) – 5-7 mg
  3. Lentils (1 cup) – 6.6 mg
  4. Chickpeas (1 cup) – 4.7 mg
  5. Tempeh (1 cup) – 4.5 mg
  6. Lima beans (1 cup) – 4.5 mg
  7. Organic blackstrap molasses (1 Tbsp) – 4 mg
  8. Kidney beans (1 cup) – 4 mg
  9. Black beans (1 cup) – 4 mg
  10. Edamame, shelled (1 cup) – 4 mg
  11. Pinto beans (1 cup) – 4 mg
  12. Beyond/Impossible burger patty – 4 mg

RELATED RECIPE: Sticky Sesame Tempeh

Honorable mentions (<4 mg iron per serving)

Other plant-based foods which can significantly contribute to your overall iron intake include:

  • Firm tofu (½ block) – 3.3 mg
  • Spinach, cooked (½ cup) – 3 mg
  • Quinoa (1 cup) – 3 mg
  • Prune juice (1 cup) – 3 mg
  • Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce) – 2.5 mg
  • Swiss chard, cooked (½ cup) – 2 mg
  • Canned tomatoes (½ cup) – 2 mg
  • Tomato paste (¼ cup) – 2 mg
  • Baked potato (1 medium) – 2 mg
  • TVP (¼ cup dry) – 2 mg
  • Oats (½ cup) – 2 mg
  • Select breakfast cereals (see post: 12 Vegan Cereals High in Iron for the best brands)
  • Dark chocolate (1 ounce) – 2 mg
  • Whole wheat or enriched pasta (1 cup) – 2 mg
  • Nutritional yeast (2 Tbsp) – 1 mg
  • Raisins (¼ cup) – 1 mg

Can you get enough iron on a vegan diet?

Yes, it’s entirely possible to meet your iron needs on a vegan diet. Contrary to popular belief, vegans aren’t at higher risk for iron deficiency than the general population. Studies have shown that vegans may have lower serum ferritin1 levels on average than omnivores, but having lower-than-average ferritin levels isn’t the same as being deficient in iron.

Of course, you’ll need to be intentional with your food choices, as with any healthy eating pattern. I’ve had my fair share of vegan clients who weren’t getting enough iron because they weren’t including a variety of iron-rich foods in their meals. 

To help meet iron needs, vegans should include one of the high-iron foods listed above at most meals. Ideally, at as many meals as possible!

Heme vs. non-heme iron

There are two types of dietary iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal-based foods, while non-heme iron is found in plant foods. 

The primary concern about iron deficiency in vegans stems from the fact that heme iron is absorbed more efficiently, with absorption rates2 of 15-30%, while non-heme iron is absorbed at a rate of 5-10%. 

However, this lower absorption rate doesn’t seem to be problematic when eating a varied, balanced vegan diet. If it were, we would see more vegans with iron deficiency.

And since high amounts of heme iron can promote oxidative stress in the body, getting more of your iron from plant-based sources can be beneficial for reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and colorectal cancer2.

How to optimize your iron stores

I like recommending a few strategies that can help boost the absorption of non-heme iron and optimize ferritin levels in the blood. These can be particularly helpful for those with iron-deficiency anemia, menstruating women, and people with malabsorptive conditions that lead to reduced iron absorption.

1) Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C. 

Vitamin C significantly increases the body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron, so try pairing iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C. The best sources of vitamin C include:

  • Guava
  • Red bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, lemon juice, lime juice)
  • Chili peppers
  • Kiwis
  • Broccoli
  • White potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts

Try adding red bell peppers to a tofu scramble, potatoes to lentil soup, and sliced strawberries to oatmeal. You can also enjoy a side of steamed broccoli with pasta, add spice with chili peppers, or add crispy air-fried Brussels sprouts to a chickpea Buddha bowl!

Crispy Brussels sprouts in a cast iron skillet

2) Pair iron-rich foods with other acids

Malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acids can also boost non-heme iron absorption2. They’re naturally present in many foods:

  • Malic acid: Apples, bananas, cherries, papaya, pineapple, apricots, mangos, olives, peas, potatoes, carrots, and corn 
  • Citric acid: Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, pomelos, clementines)
  • Tartaric acid: Grapes, apples, tamarind, bananas, avocado, citrus fruits

3) Don’t drink coffee or tea at mealtimes

The polyphenols in coffee and tea can interfere with iron absorption, so try to drink them at least an hour before or after your meals. 

4) Cook with iron

Did you know that cooking in a cast iron skillet or throwing an iron fish into soups, stews, and pasta water can add iron to your food? It’s a great hack, but is likely most effective when cooking acidic foods3

5) If needed, consider an iron supplement

For some people, food alone may not be enough to prevent iron deficiency. This is common with conditions like bariatric surgery or ulcerative colitis that impair iron absorption. In these cases, your physician or registered dietitian may recommend an iron supplement.


Contrary to popular belief, vegans aren’t more likely than omnivores to be deficient in iron as long as they’re eating well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals. These meals should include a variety of soy foods, beans, legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Did you catch that many iron-rich vegan foods tend to also be high in protein? This means you can optimize your iron and protein intake at the same time! For more information on protein, check out the 16 Best Sources of Protein for Vegans.

The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.


  1. Bakaloudi DR, Halloran A, Rippin HL, et al. Intake and adequacy of the vegan diet. A systematic review of the evidence. Clin Nutr. 2021;40(5):3503-3521. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2020.11.035
  2. Craig WJ, Mangels AR, Fresán U, et al. The Safe and Effective Use of Plant-Based Diets with Guidelines for Health Professionals. Nutrients. 2021;13(11):4144. Published 2021 Nov 19. doi:10.3390/nu13114144
  3. Kröger-Ohlsen, M.V., Trúgvason, T., Skibsted, L.H. and Michaelsen, K.F. (2002), Release of Iron into Foods Cooked in an Iron Pot: Effect of pH, Salt, and Organic Acids. Journal of Food Science, 67: 3301-3303.

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