These 8 Vegetarian Foods Contain More Iron Than Meat Does


Being a vegetarian often comes with a host of questions: How do you get protein? How do you get iron? Aren’t you tired all the time? The answer is always no (except when it comes to being tired all the time, but that has nothing to do with avoiding steak). There are actually more than enough ways to get these essential nutrients in your diet without eating animal products. In fact, here are eight vegetarian foods that are actually higher in iron than meat. For our purposes, we’ll compare these foods to a 4-ounce serving of steak, which contains about 2.7 milligrams of iron.

1. Spinach

Three cheers for dark, leafy greens! Not only are they the most nutrient-dense of all the veggies, they are also extremely tasty and versatile. If you eat three cups of spinach, that’s about 18 mg of iron—more than an 8-ounce steak (which, by the way, is way over the recommended serving size of 3-4 ounces). Spinach wilts down easily, so you can get your recommended daily allowance of iron with some sautéed spinach or a hearty spinach salad topped with protein-rich foods like hardboiled egg or nuts and seeds.

spinach photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

2. Soybeans

Get ready to chow down on some edamame, because soybeans are incredibly high in iron (and protein, but that’s another story). Just one cup of edamame has 3.5 milligrams of iron, plus a whopping 14 grams of protein. Add it to stir-fries, top salads or just eat it as a snack… that’s what I do.

3. Kidney Beans

These are a nutrition powerhouse, and they’re incredibly easy to incorporate into your diet. Just one cup has 4 milligrams of iron, plus a ton of protein to boot. Try making a three-bean chili, adding them to pasta salad or tossing them with quinoa and corn for a Southwestern-inspired side dish.

Photo by cookbookman17
Photo by cookbookman17
Photo by cookbookman17

4. Cashews

These nuts are packed with iron—2 milligrams in just 1/4 cup. It’s easy to overdo it calorie-wise when it comes to mixed nuts though, so you’re better off portioning these out (and not just eating from the jar like I do). If you don’t want to eat them plain, make a delicious cashew-chicken stir fry or soak them overnight and add to a smoothie. It sounds weird, but they add a delicious creamy texture to an otherwise basic smoothie. Yum.

5. Lentils

Each cup of lentils has 7 milligrams of iron. That’s a ton! While that’s certainly a lot of lentils to eat, you can still get mega benefits from eating just half a cup of this powerhouse food. They’re great in soups or as part of a salad tossed with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese. OK, now I’m getting hungry.

Puy lentils
Flickr | Jessica Spengler

6. Oats

Your go-to breakfast staple is reassuringly high in iron. Just a half cup packs 4 milligrams of iron. And that’s exactly what the serving size is so… go eat some oatmeal. It’s cheap, filling and you can use it in everything from muffins to homemade granola.

Photo by emmadiscovery
Photo by emmadiscovery
Photo by emmadiscovery

7. Baked Potato

Just another reason to make twice-baked potatoes! One russet potato has 3.2 milligrams of iron. Top it with some spinach, broccoli and a little cheddar cheese and you’re in business. See, eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring.

8. Dark Chocolate

You always have to end on a sweet note, and what’s sweeter than another reason to eat dark chocolate? One ounce of high-quality dark chocolate can contain anywhere between 2 and 3 milligrams of iron. You have to eat the good stuff, though—a Hershey bar with almonds doesn’t count.

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Getty Images | Matt Cardy

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About the Author
Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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