Iron is a nutrient used to make new DNA and red blood cells, as well as carry oxygen in the blood. It’s also needed for energy metabolism (45).
Too little iron can lead to anemia and symptoms such as fatigue and decreased immune function.
The RDA is 8 mg for adult men and post-menopausal women. It increases to 18 mg per day for adult women, and pregnant women should aim for 27 mg per day (46).
Iron can be found in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only available from animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plants (45).
Because heme iron is more easily absorbed from your diet than non-heme iron, vegans are often recommended to aim for 1.8 times the normal RDA. That said, more studies are needed to establish whether such high intakes are really needed (47).
Vegans with a low iron intake should aim to eat more iron-rich foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Iron-fortified foods, such as cereals, enriched breads and some plant milks, can further help (24, 48).
Also, using cast-iron pots and pans to cook, avoiding tea or coffee with meals and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can help boost iron absorption.
The best way to determine whether supplements are necessary is to get your hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked by your health practitioner.
Unnecessary intakes of supplements such as iron can do more harm than good by damaging cells or blocking the absorption of other minerals from your gut (49).Extremely high levels can even cause convulsions, lead to organ failure or coma and be fatal in some cases. Thus, it’s best not to supplement unless truly necessary (50).
BOTTOM LINE:Vegans not getting enough iron from their diets should consider fortified foods or a supplement. However, overly high levels can be harmful and iron supplements are not recommended for everyone.