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Pile your plate high with these 9 iron-packed veggies to give your health a boost


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Folks are often talking about and plotting how to get enough protein, but between the growing public interest in getting a healthy fix of it and knowledge that the stuff is super helpful for replenishing post-workout energy (plus one source’s opinion that the average American actually tends to take in double the amount that’s needed without even trying), it might be time to turn our collective focus to getting enough of a different vital nutrient. Making sure there’s enough iron in your diet, for instance, can be tricky—especially for vegans. Luckily, there are plenty of veggies to help keep your body running properly, and plenty of ’em might well be on your dinner plate already.

What exactly is iron, anyway?

When your body takes in iron, it processes the nutrient and turns it into two different proteins: hemoglobin in red blood, which has the important job of making sure oxygen gets properly distributed throughout your body, and myoglobin, which delivers oxygen to your muscles. If there’s not enough iron in your body—whether that’s due to your diet or blood loss (and yes, losing blood during your period totally counts!)—it’s possible to develop anemia, a condition that can make you feel tired, dizzy, and give you headaches. Additionally, your immune system can also take a hit if you have depleted levels of iron.

To avoid feeling lethargic and lousy overall, it’s crucial to make sure you’re getting the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of the mineral, and that differs from person to person. For women ages 19 to 50, the guideline is to eat at least 18 mg per day. If you’re pregnant, that number goes up to 27 mg. And because iron from plants (non-heme) isn’t as easily absorbed as iron from animal products (heme), it’s recommended that vegans eat 1.8 times the standard daily amount—so for most women, that’s aiming for 32 milligrams a day.

The best vegetables and legumes to get your iron fix

There’s one super-simple way to make sure you’re eating enough iron every day: filling your plate with a whole lot of iron-rich, body-boosting vegetables. And bonus: You’ll get plenty of other important vitamins and minerals in the process, too. So, which veggies and legumes should you pile on your plate? Start planning your meals around these nine high-iron superstar ingredients—and find out if it’s better to eat them raw or cooked.

1. Spinach

  • Raw: 1 mg per cup
  • Cooked: 6 mg per cup

2. Mushrooms

  • Raw: .3 mg per cup
  • Cooked: 3 mg per cup

3. Asparagus

  • Raw: 3 mg per cup
  • Cooked: 1 mg per cup

4. Potato

  • Raw: 2 mg per medium potato
  • Baked: 2 mg per medium potato

5. Black beans

  • Raw: 10 mg per cup
  • Cooked: 4 mg per cup

6. Chickpeas

  • Raw: 9 mg per cup
  • Cooked: 5 mg per cup

7. Lentils

  • Raw: 13 mg per cup
  • Cooked: 7 mg per cup

8. Broccoli

  • Raw: 4 mg per bunch
  • Cooked: 4 mg per bunch

9. Navy beans

  • Raw: 11 mg per cup
  • Cooked: 4.3 mg per cup

The best ways to absorb more iron

While eating iron-packed veggies is a great start, there are some simple ways to help your body better absorb the mineral, one of them being pairing the food with vitamin C. When you’re planning your meals, try to combine one of the above veggies with another food that’s high in the vitamin, like any citrus, chard, broccoli, red or green bell pepper, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe, or papaya, Stanford Medicine reports.

Another way to take in more iron is to simply pair iron-rich veggies with other healthy iron-rich foods. Toss some nuts and seeds into your meals, as those are jam-packed with the mineral—particularly pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, and pistachios. And plant-based protein can be a win, too: tofu alone contains 7 mg per 1/2 cup. You can also cook your food using a cast-iron pan, which—fun fact!—can up the amount of iron you’re getting.

While vitamin C can help increase absorption as well, there are other foods and beverages that do the exact opposite, making it harder for your body to get enough iron. If you’re low, cut down on coffee and tea, dairy products, high-fiber foods, and wine and beer. Once you find the right balance in your diet, getting that 18-plus mg per day will be a cinch, even if that means occasionally reducing the amount you guzzle of your favorite cold brew.

This anti-inflammatory food pyramid will help you build the ultimate healthy diet. Or, check out an A-to-Z guide to the most popular diets.

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