Iron is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in many bodily functions (1).
A diet lacking in iron can result in low energy levels, shortness of breath, headaches, irritability, dizziness or anemia.
Iron can be found in two forms in foods — heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only found in animal products, whereas non-heme iron is only found in plants (2).
The recommended daily intake (RDI) is based on an average intake of 18 mg per day. However, individual requirements vary based on a person’s gender and life stage.
For instance, men and post-menopausal women generally require around 8 mg of iron per day. This amount increases to 18 mg per day for menstruating women and to 27 mg per day for pregnant women.
And, since non-heme iron tends to be less easily absorbed by our bodies than heme iron, the RDI for vegetarians and vegans is 1.8 times higher than for meat eaters.
Here is a list of 21 plant foods that are high in iron.
Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are great sources of iron.
Listed below are the varieties containing the most iron, from highest to lowest.
1. Tofu, Tempeh, Natto and Soybeans
Soybeans and foods derived from soybeans are packed with iron.
In fact, soybeans contain around 8.8 mg of it per cup, or 49% of the RDI. The same portion of natto, a fermented soybean product, offers 15 mg, or 83% of the RDI (3, 4).
Similarly, 6 ounces (168 grams) of tofu or tempeh each offer 3–3.6 mg of iron, or up to approximately 20% of the RDI (5, 6).
In addition to iron, these soy products contain between 10–19 grams of protein per portion and are also a good source of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Lentils are another iron-filled food, providing 6.6 mg per cup cooked, or 37% of the RDI (7).
Lentils contain a significant amount of protein, complex carbs, fiber, folate and manganese as well. One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein and covers around 50% of your recommended daily fiber intake.