Why is it needed?

Iron helps to transport oxygen in the blood and between cells. Iron is involved in the production of enzymes which contribute to energy transfer, digestion and nerve functioning in the body. There are two types of iron: 1) heme and 2) non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal sources and non-heme is found in plant sources.

How much is needed?

As children grow rapidly between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, iron requirements are highest during his time.See table below for recommended daily intakes and then the list of example sources that can provide iron. A well balanced vegetarian or vegan diet provides sufficient iron. Studies report that dietary intakes of vegetarians are, on average, similar or higher than comparable non-vegetarians (SACN, 2010).

Recommended daily intakes in the UK for children:

Age mg iron
0-3 months 1.7
4-6 months 4.3
7-12 months 7.8
1-3 years 6.9
4-6 years 6.1
7-10 years 8.7


The amounts of iron in plant foods compare favorably with animal sources. However, iron from plant sources tend to be less well absorbed by our bodies. Vitamin C assists the absorption of iron from plant sources.

  • Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, aduki beans
  • Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Soy: Tofu, soya milk
  • Nuts: Almonds, cashews
  • Other: blackstrap molasses, date syrup
  • Dried fruit: apricots, peaches, raisins, figs, prunes
  • Vegetables: Swiss chard, broccoli, watercress, pak choy, spinach, cabbage, kale
  • Fortified foods: breakfast cereals
  • Wholegrains: oats, quinoa

This is not a comprehensive list.

The following table illustrates the iron content of some of these foods:

Food source mg of iron
25g pumpkin seeds 4.2
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses 3.5
½ cooked quinoa 3.1
½ cup boiled spinach 3.2
½ cup cooked lentils 3.3
½ cooked kidney beans 2.6
½ cup cooked chickpeas 1.6
3 dried apricots 0.6
1 slice wholemeal bread 0.9


Chocolate and Prune Mousse

Mini Apricot Muffins

Red Lentil and Quinoa Dahl


Harvard University Health Services, Iron content of common foods

Scientific Advisory Commitee on Nutrition, 2010, Iron and Health

The Vegetarian Society, Factsheet on Iron

The Vegetarian Resource Group, Iron

Vesanto, M et al  (2003) The new becoming vegetarian : the essential guide to a healthy vegetarian diet (Summertown, Tenn. : Healthy Living Publications)


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