How to Get Dietary Iron Without Eating Meat

Oxygen is supplied through your red blood cells. Iron is a mineral required to produce an essential component of red blood cells called hemoglobin. When you do not have enough iron in your system, your red blood cell count drops.

This means your blood is not as efficient at transporting oxygen. Often called anemia, this iron deficiency can make you feel dizzy, tired or confused. The lack of iron may have a negative impact on multiple systems in your body and impede your ability to stave off infections or illnesses.

As you may know, meat has a high concentration of iron, but there are many reasons you may not wish to eat it, such as ethical concerns or concerns about how modern meats are processed. Even if you are not going vegetarian and do enjoy eating red meats, you may not obtain enough iron from meat consumption alone. Adding other foods rich in iron to your diet helps you get enough iron each day. Below are some foods you can eat to get dietary iron without eating red meat.

Orange Juice and Other Sources of Vitamin C

Orange juice is not high in iron, but it does contain a lot of vitamin C. Studies indicate consuming vitamin C along with iron-rich foods helps your body absorb more iron, while consuming calcium makes it more difficult for your body to absorb iron.

Therefore, reaching for a glass of orange juice with an iron-rich meal is better than drinking milk. You can achieve the same result by eating foods high in vitamin C along with foods high in iron. Vitamin C-rich foods include:

  • Strawberries.
  • Parsley.
  • Thyme.
  • Chili peppers.
  • Kiwis.
  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Lemons.
  • Kale.


Spinach is an excellent source of iron and vitamin C, making it an ideal ingredient to add to your meals. The average recommended daily intake of iron is approximately 180 mg. Your exact requirement depends on your gender and body type. There are 3.6 mg, or approximately 20 percent of the iron you need for the day, in a 3.5 ounce serving of cooked spinach. Adding spinach to your diet provides other potential health benefits, including:

  • Decreasing inflammation in your body due to carotenoids, helpful antioxidants it contains.
  • Vision protection.
  • Properties that reduce cancer risks.

Spinach contains non-heme, or plant-based iron, as opposed to the heme iron derived from red meat. Your body cannot absorb non-heme iron as efficiently as heme iron though you can give your body an assist by consuming cooked spinach instead of raw spinach. The cooking process makes the iron in the spinach easier for your body to process and absorb. To reap the full benefits from spinach, including decreased inflammation, eat cooked spinach in conjunction with olive oil or other sources of healthy fats.

Beans and Other Legumes

Foods in the legume’s family grow in pods. Legumes like beans contain large but varied amounts of iron. Soybeans are among the beans with the highest iron levels. One cup of soybeans contains approximately 8.8 mg of iron. Natto, which is a fermented product made from soybeans, is even more rich in iron. It contains 15 mg per cup.

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Cooked lentils are high-fiber legumes. One cup of cooked lentils contains 6.6 mg. Eating lentils is a good idea because they provide essential nutrients like manganese and folate. The complex carbohydrates and proteins in lentils can provide your body with extra energy. They can help you regulate your digestion because a single cup provides half your daily recommended dose of fiber. Other types of high-iron legumes include:

  • Red kidney beans.
  • Peas.
  • Lima beans.
  • Chickpeas.
  • Black-eyed peas.
  • Navy beans.

In addition to helping you avoid developing anemia, studies indicate legumes are useful when losing weight. One study, conducted at Loma Linda University in California in 2014, found a relationship between eating beans and weight loss. Legumes like beans can help you lose weight because they are packed with filling fiber. Fiber gives you a full feeling, causing you to eat less.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are often touted for their health benefits. Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil have properties that can help you keep your prostate healthy, if you are male. They are full of nutrients and vitamins your body needs, regardless of your gender. Among them are:

  • Manganese.
  • Vitamin K.
  • Zinc

There is 4.2 mg, or approximately 23 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, in one ounce of pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a top source of magnesium, which is another essential mineral your system may lack. Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies you can have. A one-cup serving of pumpkin seeds fulfills 37 percent of your daily magnesium requirement.

Pumpkin seeds may be difficult to incorporate into primary meals though they are a healthy snack option when you are concerned about developing iron or magnesium deficiencies. You can easily eat them anywhere. They require no time to prepare.


Broccoli does not contain as much iron as the foods mentioned above. One cup of cooked broccoli only provides about six percent of the daily iron you need, though you can consume it in different ways, so it is easy to incorporate a lot of it into your diet. Possible options include:

  • Raw, such as in a salad.
  • Included as an ingredient in a soup.
  • Cooked as a side dish.
  • Mixed into a stir-fry.

Adding broccoli to your diet to boost your iron levels provides other health benefits. A one-cup serving of broccoli contains more than 1.5 times the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, which helps your body absorb the iron contained in the broccoli and any other foods you eat as part of your meal. It is rich in vitamin K and fiber.

When you add more broccoli to your diet, studies show you may provide your body with an extra line of defense against cancer. It contains plant compounds like sulforaphane and indole. Such compounds have cancer-fighting properties. Those compounds are found in cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables.

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