For a balanced diet, iron-rich foods are crucial. The most important function performed by iron is to supply oxygen throughout the body and produce red blood cells. Deficiency of iron causes anaemia, which is a common problem amongst teenagers today.
Iron can be divided into heme iron and non heme iron. While heme iron is easier to absorb and is found in meat, seafood and poultry, non heme iron is found in plant-based sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
“Iron is needed for the transport and storage of oxygen. It assists in enzymatic activities responsible for increasing red blood cell formation and blood vessel growth and is an essential constituent of hundreds of proteins and enzymes,” says nutritionist Karishma Chawla.
Integrative nutritionist Payal Kothari says that a deficit of this micronutrient can have hazardous effects on the mind, body and nervous system. While meat lovers can eat chicken liver or breast, red meat, beef, oyster, eggs, fish, pork and turkey to get a healthy dose of iron; vegetarians can opt for cruciferous greens, as well as tofu, raisins, oatmeal and brown rice.
Here are some of the best vegetarian options of iron
Cruciferous greens: Make sure your meals have at least 1-2 green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale. “100 grams of cooked spinach has 3.6 mg of iron and lots of vitamin C, which boosts absorption of iron. Consuming these heavy greens on a daily basis also helps in weight loss, since leafy vegetables are high in fibre and low on calories,” says Kothari.
Pumpkin seeds: The seeds are rich in iron, Vitamin K, zinc and manganese. “Snacking on pumpkin seeds on a daily basis is a great idea. It can be carried in flights, cars or to work and can be munched on at any given time of the day,” says Kothari.
Legumes: Beans and legumes are loaded with iron and other nutrients, and are a great option for vegetarians. Legumes are one of the most iron-rich foods that can be added to your diet. “You can eat legumes in the form of salads, dips, soups and curries. A single cup of boiled pinto beans can take care of the 21 per cent iron needed by the body for a single day,” says Kothari. Chawla says that soybeans can be a better source of protein than dals, while kidney beans are a good source of iron, and can be mixed with brown rice to give a better profile of amino acids.
Apricots: These fruits are high in iron and are available in canned, dried, cooked or raw form. “Even half a cup of dried apricots can take care of 35 per cent iron intake needed by the body daily,” says Kothari.
Brown rice: It is rich in fibre and helps in getting rid of toxins within the body. The high iron content helps fight fatigue and anaemia as well, says Kothari.
Prunes: These dried fruits are rich in iron but must be had sparingly. “It is a concentrated form of sugar and is best consumed in the first half of the day,” says Chawla.