A lack of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, but you don't need to pack your plate with meat to boost iron intake. Whether you're adhering to a strict vegetarian diet or simply enjoy an occasional meat-free meal, you can find plenty of non-meat foods that are high in iron.
Many leafy green vegetables have high levels of iron, including spinach, which has about 3.2 milligrams in a half-cup serving. Beet greens, collard greens, turnip greens, and kale are other good leafy green sources of iron. Soybeans provide about 4.4 milligrams of iron per half-cup serving, and the same amount of tofu has 5 to 10 milligrams. A large potato gives you 3.2 milligrams of iron. Adding a side dish of greens to your meal or creating a curry with tofu and potatoes can help boost iron levels quickly and easily.
Out of all of the legumes, lentils have one of the highest levels of iron. There are about 3.2 milligrams of iron in a half-cup serving of these easy-to-prepare legumes. Beans vary in their iron content, but the iron in a half-cup of beans generally ranges between 1.5 and 2.3 milligrams. In addition to their iron content, beans and lentils are also high in protein and make a hearty base for a meal. Try serving beans and rice or a vegetarian chili in place of your normal meat dish.
Fruit makes a healthy and tasty snack that can satisfy your sweet tooth in addition to providing plenty of vitamins and minerals. Dried fruits are higher in iron than fresh fruits because of their higher nutrient concentration. Raisins contain 1.6 milligrams of iron per cup, and 15 dried apricot halves contain 1.4 milligrams of iron. You can also get iron from prune juice, which has 3 milligrams per 8-ounce glass.
Nuts and Seeds
Snacking on nuts and seeds along with dried fruit can boost your iron intake even more. Just an ounce of cooked pumpkin seeds has 4.2 milligrams of iron, and a quarter-cup of cashews has 2.1 milligrams.
Other Vegetarian Sources
Many fortified grain products contain iron, including commercial cereals. Other grains come by their high levels naturally, including quinoa, which has 6.3 milligrams of iron per cup. Sweeten cereals or desserts with blackstrap molasses, which contains 7.2 milligrams of iron in a 2-tablespoon serving.
The iron in non-meat sources is less bioavailable than the iron found in meat. You can boost the availability of non-meat iron in your body by consuming vitamin C-rich foods at the same time. A glass of orange juice or some tomato sauce mixed into your meatless meal can provide the vitamin C necessary to free up iron and improve your body's ability to utilize it.
Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.