Ensuring adequate iron status in vegetarians and vegans

Abstract

Many people, including some physicians, are concerned about iron deficiency anemia in patients consuming a plant-based diet. However, studies show that the risk of anemia in vegetarian and vegan patients is no greater than in omnivorous patients.

Plant foods contain only non-heme iron, whereas meat contains both the heme and non-heme iron. There used to be a concern that non-heme iron would be poorly absorbed resulting in iron deficiency anemia. However, non-heme is well absorbed in most vegetarian patients and vegan because other plant foods, containing substances such as vitamin C and citric acid, can greatly enhance its absorption. Furthermore, non-heme iron absorption increases whenever iron stores are low.

Adequate iron levels can easily be maintained in the vegan patient with a little planning. Consuming foods high in iron along with foods that enhance non-heme iron absorption, will prevent iron deficiency anemia in vegan and vegetarian patients. Because both groups of foods are widely available, this should not be difficult to accomplish.

Patients that are already anemic can be treated by increasing their consumption of iron rich and iron enhancing foods. Supplements are sometimes required. In these cases, iron supplements can be prescribed in the same manner as with omnivorous patients. Continue reading