Plant-based sources of iron include green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds and dates. However, although iron is present in these foods, it is not at high levels nor is it in a form that the body easily absorbs.
For some vegetarians and vegans, the body utilises the iron from vegetable sources efficiently, whereas for others, less so. Absorption of plant-based iron is enhanced in the presence of vitamin C, so including some vitamin C-rich foods (such as broccoli, capsicum and lemon) with your meals can help. It’s also important to avoid drinking tea, coffee and wine with meals, as tannins in these can bind the iron, which inhibits absorption.
It’s important to have your iron levels checked before supplementing, as an excess of iron in the body is also problematic, and some of the symptoms of iron overload are actually similar to those of deficiency. Nuts and legumes also contain small amounts of zinc. Women require 8mg of zinc per day and men require 14mg per day to prevent deficiency.