When you think of the top sources of iron, you probably think of meat. That’s not the only way to get your fix, though. You can get more than enough of the important mineral on a plant-based diet if you’re following a few iron-boosting rules.
According to Jessie Valentine, MS, RD, the plant-based registered dietitian behind Vitamin Valentine, anyone who’s low on iron—which you find out through a blood test—can increase their levels by using three different techniques. When you’re ready to give your body a boost, here’s exactly how she says to do it.
3 Ways to Get Enough Iron as a Vegan
1. Try an iron supplement.
If you’re truly low in iron and need to increase it, Valentine says your health care provider may recommend an iron supplement. When taking one, make sure to do so correctly. “Avoid taking iron supplements with foods that are rich in calcium, like fortified plant-milks and certain types of tofu,” she says. “Also avoid taking an iron supplement with coffee, tea, and whole grains that are super high in fiber.” According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s best to space your iron supplements out from these foods (at least 1 to 2 hours) so the absorption isn’t affected.
2. Eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C.
While taking iron supplements with calcium-rich foods can inhibit absorption, eating them with vitamin C can aid in it. “For example, beans are a good source of non-heme—aka plant-based—iron, but you’ll want to pair your beans with vitamin C-rich foods (like peppers, citrus, tomatoes, squash, or broccoli) in order to increase the absorption of iron.”
3. Use cast-iron cookware.
It’s not just what you eat that can help with iron absorption—it’s also what you’re cooking with. “Using cast-iron cookware can increase the iron content of your food—especially foods with a high acid content, like tomato sauce,” Valentine says.