Can you get adequate iron and protein on a plant based diet?
Will I get enough iron from a plant based diet??
This is one of the questions I'm often asked and the answer is yes. Now, iron is one of those nutrients that are extremely essential for the body so it's important to keep an eye out for it and test your levels. Supplementation can be indicated in cases of anemia or pregnancies for example but it's important to not supplement without referring to a professional or without knowing your own body's levels as too much of a good thing is not necessarly better. And it couldn't be more true for iron which if present in excess could actually act as a pro oxidant and negatively affect our system.
Good plant based sources of iron are green leafy vegetable (spinach, green leafy rocket, dandelion greens, kale, watercress, parsley, lettuce, endive, chicory, broccoli sprouts and mustard sprouts, broccoli, mustard greens, arugula, collard greens, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, cabbage), fenugreek, beets (stimulate haemoglobin production and red blood cells production), dried apricots, dates, raisins, dries figs, cashew nuts, almonds, sesame seeds and tahini.
As the iron derived from plants is less bioavailable, meaning that is absorbed less easily than the one from animal sources, always eat iron rich foods with vitamin C rich ones because it maximises the absorption. You can find vitamin C in berries, bell peppers, brussel sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, kiwi, cauliflower, kale, grapefruit, parsley, beet greens, mustard greens, tomatoes, lemons, limes, asparagus. For example, squeeze lemon juice on your green veggies or drizzle your nut and seed butter on a bowl of berries.
Also, foods rich in chlorophyll (chlorella, spirulina, barley and wheatgrass, dark green vegetables and herbs) could help to raise haemoglobin levels as the molecular structure of chlorophyll is very similar to the one of human blood and its consumption may increases the production of haemoglobin.
What about protein??
The easiest way to get enough protein on a vegan diet is making sure to consume a variety of legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables throughout your day.
Legumes such as beans, chick peas, lentils and peas are one of the richest sources of proteins and if combined with whole grains (for example rice and beans, hummus and wholegrain bread), you will get a complete protein, one that contains all the essential amino acids.
Quinoa and buckwheat, often considered a grain but actually plant seeds, are a great source of protein and contain all the 9 amino acids essential that our body needs. And products derived from soya such as tofu and tempeh have a high protein content as well.
Another excellent source of plant proteins are nuts, especially pine nuts and almonds and seeds like chia, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin. In particular, hemp seeds, just like quinoa and buckwheat are a complete protein.
But even simple vegetables can have high protein levels, in particular spinach and kale without forgetting algae. Spirulina, for example is a microalgae very rich in protein and iron in a form that is easily assimilated by our body.
If you are after convenience and often on the go, plan based protein powders can be a great alternative. Try to pick a blend of pea, rice and hemp to get a variety of nutrients and a complete array of amino acids or simply rotate them having different ones on each day.