“The 7 Best Iron Supplements for Vegans” was written by Anthony Salazar. Edited/reviewed by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND.
Anthony follows a vegan diet, is a dietetic intern at Oregon Health Sciences University, & runs the Chronically Nourished blog.
Are you worried that you are not getting enough iron in your diet? Did your physician suggest getting an iron supplement? Maybe you are trying to find the best iron supplements for vegans?
This article on the best iron supplements for vegans you will help you learn more about iron, what it is, why you need it, and will help you decide which supplement may be right for you.
What Is Iron?
Iron is a mineral and a vital component for all living organisms including humans, animals, plants, and microbes.
It is present naturally in varying amounts in most foods, it is added to some foods as a fortification product and found in supplement form.
The body tightly regulates the absorption and excretion of iron. The body will decrease how much iron is absorbed if iron storage is sufficient and increase absorption when total body iron is low (1).
In the healthcare setting iron levels are typically assessed by clinical significance, meaning that low iron may show up on a routine laboratory test.
If iron levels are low enough it can affect the red blood cells (erythrocytes). This is known as anemia, more specifically microcytic (iron-deficiency) anemia.
It is common to be diagnosed with low iron but have hemoglobin unaffected. This may indicate that a person has low iron stores, but it is not causing anemia.
Here are some common iron related labs:
Common Laboratory Tests (2)
- Hemoglobin (Hb): measures the amount of hemoglobin in your blood at the time of the blood draw.
- Red Cell Distribution Width (RCW): measures the size and volume of red blood cells.
- Mean Corpuscular Volume (MCV): measures the average size of red blood cells.
- Red Blood Cell Count (RBC): measures how many red blood cells you have present.
- Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin (MCH): estimates the average amount of hemoglobin per red blood cell.
- Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration (MCHC): measures how concentrated hemoglobin is in a specific volume of blood.
- Platelets: measures how many platelets are in the blood.
- Serum Ferritin: ferritin is a protein in the blood that stores iron. It measures how much of this iron-storage protein is in the blood and can help determine if you have low iron stores.
- Serum Iron: measures the total amount of iron in your serum, the liquid in your blood that is left over without the red blood cells and platelets.
- Total Iron-Binding Capacity (TIBC): measures the blood’s ability to attach itself to iron in the body.
- Transferrin Saturation: is serum iron divided by TIBC, which determines how much of the serum iron is bound.
All these tests combined with patient and family history can be used in different combinations to get a clearer clinical picture of an individual.
These laboratory results are a snapshot in time and can change throughout the day and will most certainly change throughout your life.
Due to the complexity of these labs, do not attempt to self-diagnose. Always talk to your doctor about the results of your laboratory values.
Types of Iron
The two primary types of iron found in foods are heme and non-heme.
Heme is the Greek word for blood, which where this type of iron is found. Approximately 40% of iron found in animal meats is heme iron (3) coming mostly from blood and myoglobin.
Non-heme iron is found in plants, animal meats, and fortified food products. Almost all over-the-counter (OTC) iron supplements are non-heme iron. Below is a list of common iron supplement types.
Common types of iron supplements:
- Ferrous Sulfate
- Ferrous Gluconate
- Iron Bisglycinate (amino acid chelate)
- Ferrous Citrate
- Ferrous Succinate
- and Ferrous Fumarate
There are many different types of iron found in supplements which can make it confusing to try and figure out which one is right for you. Do not get too caught up in the type of iron as most have been shown to increase iron stores (4, 5).
The primary difference is the chemical structure of each of these supplements and what the iron is bound to. For example, iron citrate is the combination of ferric ions with citric acid.
Newer iron supplements such as, carbonyl iron and iron amino acid chelates may be easier on the stomach and better absorbed, but overall, have been studied less (6).
Ferrous sulfate is the most researched form of iron supplement.
Caution with Iron Supplements
Advisory: Always talk to your healthcare team before starting a new supplement. Additionally, it is important to use caution with supplements.
The goal of the supplement industry as a whole, is designed to make money (profit driven). Unfortunately, this profit motive has led some companies to cut corners.
Additionally, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
These factors can lead to a product that is either misleading (doesn’t do what the label says it will) or unsafe to be consumed.
There have been countless cases of bacterial contamination, product mislabeling, fillers not listed on the label, more or less active ingredient in the supplement than what is on the label, heavy metal contamination, and even deaths reported from supplements (7, 8).
It is always advised to choose a well-known supplement company that is being certified by a reputable 3rd party tester to ensure quality and safety.
Always refer to your physician or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to assist in finding which iron supplement may be best for you.
Why You Need Iron
Healthy Blood: The primary reason iron gets so much attention is because it is an essential component of red blood cell (erythrocyte) production and maintenance.
More specifically, hemoglobin, a protein component of red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen to the 37 trillion cells in which the human body is comprised.
Additionally, myoglobin requires iron to store oxygen in the muscles.
DNA production and maintenance: Enzymes that are responsible for DNA replication, maintenance, and repair require sufficient amounts of iron to properly function.
Immune system: Iron is a vital component for immune cells.
Antioxidants: Several enzymes that act as antioxidants need iron to properly function to rid the body of excess harmful byproducts.
Thyroid function: Enzymes in the thyroid need proper amounts of iron to function properly.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for iron are listed below (9). Needs differ between age groups, pregnancy, and in women of child-bearing age.
|Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Iron|
|0-6 months||0.27 mg*||0.27 mg*|
|7-12 months||11 mg||11 mg|
|1-3 years||7 mg||7mg|
|4-8 years||10 mg||10 mg|
|9-13 years||8 mg||8 mg|
|14-18 years||11 mg||15 mg||27 mg||10 mg|
|19-50 years||8 mg||18 mg||27 mg||9 mg|
|51+ years||8 mg||8 mg|
What If I Don’t Get Enough Iron?
Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world (9).
Iron deficiency starts with the depletion of iron stores. When iron stores become so low that it starts to cause a decrease in red cell production, microcytic iron-deficiency anemia occurs.
It should be noted that omnivores (those who eat meat) likely suffer from similar rates of iron-deficiency anemia as vegans and vegetarians (10).
There are certain groups that have a higher risk of iron-deficiency. These groups of individuals are listed below (9):
- Children ages 0-3 years: Pregnant women who do not consume enough iron or have medical complications that lead to iron-deficiency anemia risk birthing a child with low iron-stores. With proper iron consumption in the mother, an infant’s iron stores should typically be enough to last a child until they can start eating solid foods (4-6 months).
- Women of child-bearing age: Menstruation leads to the loss of blood and thus the loss of iron. Therefore, women of child-bearing age have a much greater need for iron than men as they actively lose iron every month.
- Pregnant Women: Pregnant women have an increased need for iron for proper cell growth and maintenance.
- Blood Donors: Frequent blood donors consistently lose blood and are at an increased risk for iron-deficiency.
- Medical Conditions: There are certain medical conditions, especially those that result in the loss of blood, that can result in iron-deficiency such as a peptic ulcer, intestinal bleeding, endometriosis, and several other conditions.
Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anemia:
- Fatigue is the most common symptom of iron-deficiency anemia. This may be especially noticeable during physical exercise where an individual may feel more out of breath than usual.
- Feeling cold or having cold hands and feet can be a symptom of iron-deficiency anemia.
- Rapid heart rate and palpitations are symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia.
- Physical signs include spoon-shaped nails that are weak and pliable, sores at the corners of the mouth, and a sore tongue which may affect taste.
- Iron-deficiency in children has been associated with decreased cognitive development, decreased scholastic achievement, and an increase in behavioral issues.
What If I Get Too Much Iron?
Warning: Always store your iron in a safe place out of reach of children. Accidental iron overdose is one of the most common causes of overdose death in young children (11).
Short-term consequences of too much iron: Upset stomach, constipation, nausea, and vomiting are the most common side effects associated with iron-supplementation. Iron supplementation can also interfere with antibiotics.
Long-term consequences of too much iron: Too much heme iron can act as a pro-oxidant and is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer later in life (12-15).
However, it should be noted that many of the mechanisms are unclear and further evidence is needed to find a causal effect. No association has been found between these conditions and non-heme iron intake.
Purchasing Iron Supplements for Vegans
The most important factors to look for when finding an iron supplement for vegans.
- Safety & Quality: They should be certified by an independent lab for quality and safety. The FDA DOES NOT review dietary supplements for efficacy or safety. This means that supplements can contain completely different ingredients than what is on the label.
- Some reliable third-party testing agencies are Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), US Pharmacopeia (USP), and Consumer Labs (CL).
- Type of Iron: The amount and type of iron. Are they using types of iron that show evidence of efficacy and safety in short and long-term studies? Is it more gentle to consume?
- Price: Do you have to break the bank to purchase this supplement?
- Other: Does it contain additional ingredients such as vitamin C, B12, Folic acid, fillers, or preservatives?
The 7 Best Iron Supplements for Vegans
Without further ado, here is our list of the 7 best iron supplements for vegans.
Keep in mind this list is not all inclusive. Work with your healthcare team and find the iron supplements for vegans that is best for you!
*This section includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
7 Best Iron Supplements for Vegans:
- NatureMade Iron (65mg)
- Thorne Iron Bisglycinate (25mg)
- Solaray Iron Citrate (25 mg)
- VegLife Vegan Iron Chewable (18 mg)
- MegaFood Blood Builder
- Now Iron
- Garden of Life MyKind (liquid)
Comparison of Iron Supplements for Vegans
You can find more information on these iron supplements for vegans below.
- Safety & Quality tested: USP certified (16)
- Type of Iron: Ferrous Sulfate
- Price: $
- Other: This product contains some fillers and preservatives which can be seen as less desirable by some consumers.
Take this product with food! This product contains a high amount of iron that can cause nausea, upset stomach, and vomiting.
This product makes the top of the list because it is safety and quality tested by one of the most reliable 3rd party testers, it contains a well-researched form of iron, and the price is unbeatable.
Some of the fillers and preservatives may be seen as less desirable, such as polysorbate 80, polyethylene glycol, coloring, Hypromellose, dibasic calcium phosphate, and croscarmellose sodium.
- Safety & Quality tested: TGA certified (17)
- Type of Iron: Iron Bisglycinate (Amino acid chelate)
- Price: $$$
- Other: Contains minimal additives. Silicon Dioxide is used as a preservative.
This product is number two on the list because it is safety and quality tested by the strictest third-party tester, TGA.
It contains a less researched form of iron but may be easier on the stomach for many consumers. This product was almost listed as number one, but the price is a little higher.
It does have minimal fillers and preservatives.
- Safety & Quality tested: CL tested for proper ingredients, dosage and heavy metal contamination (18)
- Type of Iron: Chelated Iron Citrate Complex
- Price: $$
- Other: This product contains natural fillers and preservatives.
Solaray Iron Citrate is tested for accuracy by ConsumerLabs. It has tested free of metals like lead, cadmium, and arsenic.
The price is manageable and contains minimal fillers and preservatives.
- Safety & Quality tested: CL tested for proper ingredients, dosage and heavy metal contamination (18)
- Type of Iron: Iron Fumarate
- Price: $
- Other: Contains vitamins C, B12, and Folic Acid which assist in preventing anemia. Contains a small amount of sugar alcohols and natural flavors.
This supplement is thoroughly tested by ConsumerLab to ensure proper dosage and is free of heavy metal contamination.
The form of iron is iron fumarate, which is similar to ferrous sulfate, but it is combined with a different type of ion. Both have shown to be effective in treating iron-deficiency.
This supplement contains vitamin C which helps increase the absorption of iron. And it contains vitamin B12 and folate which can be beneficial in those with decifiency.
- Safety & Quality tested: See below
- Type of Iron: Iron Bisglycinate (Fermented)
- Price: $$$
- Other: Clinically tested, contains food-based iron, but also contains the less desirable filler Hypromellose
MegaFoods is 3rd party tested for hundreds of pesticide residues which is what makes this product unique. It is registered as a B corporation and holds several other 3rd party certifications (19).
However, this supplement is not examined yearly by a reliable 3rd party such as TGA, USP, or CL.
The company claims this product is so gentle that it can be taken on an empty stomach with many reviews to support this claim. The form of iron is derived from food and has been clinically tested, but the sample size was small (20).
It is one of the more expensive supplements on this list.
- Safety & Quality tested: CL certified for active ingredient accuracy (18)
- Type of Iron: Ferrous Bisglycinate
- Price: $
- Other: Contains minimal fillers and preservatives
Now Iron is a simple and effective iron supplement that is tested by ConsumerLab to ensure that it contains the proper dosage. It is not tested for other contaminants such as heavy metals.
It is one of the cheapest supplements on the list and contains minimal fillers and preservatives.
- Safety & Quality tested: CL certified for active ingredient accuracy (18)
- Type of Iron: Organic Food Blend
- Price: $$$$
- Other: Good for people who want liquid or whole food based supplements.
This supplement is rated last due to it being extremely expensive and containing a ‘Organic Food Blend” iron.
ConsumerLab has tested this product and confirmed that it does contain the amount of iron in which it claims. However, this form of iron is not extensively researched like the others.
The primary reason this supplement made the list is for people who are looking for a more whole food version of iron, a more “natural” product, and those looking for a liquid supplement.
A Note on Other Iron Supplements for Vegans
This concludes our list of the 7 best iron supplements for vegans. Keep in mind this list is not inclusive. The point of an iron supplement is to SAFELY increase a person’s iron.
Just because a supplement does not appear on this does not mean it is not a viable option. Remember to use some of the tools learned in this article to make sure it is safe to use.
Many people get caught up in small details such as the type of iron, fillers, preservatives, etc. The most important thing to do is correct the iron-deficiency. This can be done with every type of iron addressed in this article.
However, as you will learn next, getting iron from your food is always the best. Food First:
Using Food to Increase Iron Intake
While some people have a clinical need for an iron supplement (and their doctor recommends one), most people do not need an iron supplement.
It is always best to get iron from food if we can. Food-based iron is packaged with water, vitamins, minerals, and if obtained from plants, fiber, and other beneficial phytonutrients (plant compounds).
Additionally, many plant foods are rich in vitamin C which increases the bioavailability (how much is absorbed) of iron in the entire meal.
Tips to Increase Iron Absorption
There are many things that an individual can do to increase the amount of iron in their diet and increase the bioavailability of the iron in the foods they consume.
Vitamin C binds to non-heme iron and can significantly increase the absorption of this mineral. As such, vitamin C has shown to reverse the decrease in iron availability caused by tannins and oxalates (21).
Most fruits and vegetables contain some amount of vitamin C. Significant sources of vitamin C include broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, potato, mango, lemons, limes, oranges, leafy greens, papaya, tomato, peppers, and many others.
Of note, cooking destroys some of the vitamin C in foods. Therefore, raw fruits or vegetables will contain more vitamin C thank cooked.
Try to include a good source of vitamin C with each meal.
Beta-carotene. Research shows that iron is absorbed more efficiently when it is consumed with foods high in beta-carotene, a phytonutrient that humans convert into vitamin A (21).
Significant sources of beta-carotene include carrots, bell peppers, leafy greens, green vegetables, and sweet potatoes.
Iron cast skillets can increase iron in your foods. Especially when foods rich in vitamin C are cooked in the skillet due to iron from the pan attaching to food molecules.
Smaller meals optimize how much iron your body absorbs at one time. Iron is absorbed less efficiently when large meals are consumed.
What Reduces Iron Absorption?
Tannins. Eating iron rich foods or taking iron supplements with coffee or tea can decrease the bioavailability due to their tannin content (21).
Oxalates. Additionally, foods high in oxalates such as spinach may bind to iron and decrease how much your body can absorb (21).
Calcium. Calcium supplements can bind to iron and decrease its bioavailability. (21)
Top Vegan Food Sources of Iron
Iron is found in most plant foods in different amounts. Ensuring that your meals contain a variety of high iron foods will increase the likelihood of reaching your iron needs.
High Iron Vegan Foods
- Pinto beans, soybeans (edamame), tofu, tempeh, black beans, red beans, white beans, butter beans, great northern beans, split peas, cannellini beans, lentils, (red, green, brown), chickpeas, hummus, and green peas
- Nuts & Seeds
- Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, almond butter, pine nuts, and sesame seeds.
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Kale, spinach, swiss chard, arugula, collard greens, mesclun mix, sorrel, turnip greens, and mustard greens.
- Root Vegetables
- Potatoes (red & white), purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams.
- White, cremini, and oyster.
- Whole Grains
- Brown rice, amaranth, whole wheat, oats, buckwheat, barley, millet, and quinoa.
- Iron-Fortified Foods
- Cereals, grains, bread, plant-based meats, etc. (read the food label for iron content)
- Dried Spices
- Turmeric, thyme, oregano, basil, curry, paprika, cumin, coriander, etc.
High Iron Vegan Breakfast
Here is an example of a simple breakfast that is high in iron and vitamin C.
- Tofu (1/2 block) hash scramble with potatoes (1 small), spinach (1/2 cup), mushroom (1/4 cup), onion (1/4 cup), garlic (1 clove), bell pepper (1/4 cup), turmeric (for color), garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, paprika, and salt with an orange.
- Calories: 548
- Protein: 31 grams
- Vitamin C: 180mg (240% RDA)
- Iron: 10.3 mg
- 129% of adult men’s needs
- 57% of women of child-bearing age’ needs
- 38% of pregnant women’s needs
The Bottom Line: All plant foods contain iron and individuals typically get enough if they are consuming a balanced diet that has enough calories and protein.
Make sure you are eating an assortment of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and spices every day.
Iron and Protein
Foods’s high in protein are usually also high in iron. Beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain the highest amount of iron in the vegan diet and are protein powerhouses.
If you are interested in downloading a vegan protein sources chart or reading a blog on high protein vegan meals refer to the links below:
Conclusion: The 7 Best Iron Supplements for Vegans
This article covered the best iron supplements for vegans, but also covered a ton of tips and information about the importance of iron.
Here is a summary of the main take-aways:
- Iron is an essential mineral needed for various bodily processes.
- The two primary types are heme (animal) and non-heme iron.
- Countless forms of supplemental iron exist and most show evidence of improving iron-deficiency.
- Supplements are not regulated by the FDA and may contain harmful products. Always ensure to get a supplement that is made by a reputable company, and 3rd party tested for safety.
- Most people can get enough iron through their diet and there are many ways to increase the bioavailability of iron to ensure proper iron stores.
- Ensuring your meals contain a plant-based protein source will increase the chance that you meet your iron needs.
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