How to beat iron deficiency as a vegan
today, I want to offer you information and advice on how to beat iron deficiency. I also want to talk about a topic that is highly discussed and causes a lot of confusion for people who are thinking about cutting all animal products out of their diets. Yes, vegan supplementsare an option and easily available these days, in online shops as well as in normal drugstores. And no, you don't necessarily need them in order to be holistically healthy - with one exception.
You only need to supplement vitamin B12 in order to meet all the nutritional needs of your body.
But that's basically about it when it comes to supplements you should take when following a plant-based diet. So I can soothe you guys, it's not that complicated. Before I share all the information with you that I gathered throughout the last years of being a healthy and thriving vegan, I want to give you a quick background about my transition and how my health changed over time. If you are not that interested in this, simply jump straight into the second part of the post where I share
my top 5 tips for optimal iron absorption
advice on how to avoidiron deficiency
information about vitamin B12 + a few plant based sources and finally
supplementsthat I personally take in order to feel good (or, let's say, even better, lol) every single day
A lil background for all of those who are interested: I turned vegan over night after watching a documentary called 'Earthlings' and never looked back ever since.
My vegan health story in a nutshell / Throwback
After going vegan in April 2014, I was doing absolutely great health-wise and my energy-levels were through the roof.
Especially during the first weeks after transitioning over to a fully plant-based vegan diet, I felt a significant shift in my energy-levels and my overall mood.
Until today, I've been feeling great eating plant-based and I couldn't be more grateful for this side effect of a vegan diet. My physical health has never been at such a great state before I transitioned and even my mental health improved dramatically after going vegan.
However, some time last year, a lot of mental stress and way too much caffeine consumption made my body crash. I have been traveling a lot last year. Very long distances, little sleep, emotional stress, anxiety and way too much coffee made my body burn out. My mental and physical health simply weren't at an optimal state. For 2 whole months, I felt very tired, stressed out, powerless most of the time. It seemed as if my body wasn't even absorbing all the nutrients that I was consuming through the diet that I followed. I have always been eating a very well-balanced diet right from the beginning because I always wanted to get sure I would fuel my body in the best way possible with all the colors of the rainbow (well, for some time I followed a HCLF vegan diet and it wasn't balanced at all, but that's a topic for another blogpost I guess haha). So even though I made sure that I was eating foods very high in iron, my body didn't seem to absorb any of that iron properly. I started doing a lot of research on this highly important topic since I wanted to get my health back on track as quickly as possible. I stumbled over lots of helpful resources so I decided to share my top tips that I took from them with you in this post.
By implementing these, I slowly but surely managed to get my iron levels up to a normal level again after being very, very low for 3 months.
My Iron Tips
My top five tips for optimal iron absorption
Reduce your caffeine consumption to an absolute minimum. I personally had no idea that caffeine (you find it in coffee as well as black tea and energy drinks - especially try to stay away from that shit, kids! It's pure chemistry in a bottle) affects your iron absorption in any way. But it does, so I started cutting it out and after a couple of days, I started seeing a huge difference in my energy levels. To be quite honest, the first week without any coffee/ chai tea was taff since my body was so used to it and I literally and no energy without it any more. But it became easier over time. I still do have a little cup of coffee with almond mylk occasionally, but no longer several cups every single day.Chai tea with soy mylk? A weekend-treat. I prefer matcha latte or hot chocolate with Maca powder, a splash of beetroot juice and coconut milk these days.
Adding a source of Vitamin C (lemon, lime, grapefruit, mandarine) to your iron-rich meal. Vitamin C has been proven to be very effective in several studies. One study even reported that adding just 63 mg of vitamin C to a meal rich in nonheme iron yielded a 2.9-fold increase in iron absorption. Get your hands on half a lemon or lime and squeeze it over your beetroot-spinach-salad and top everything with almonds to boost your iron!
Optimize your gut health. I won't go into too much detail on this one since my friend Danny wrote a great article about this interesting point. You can check it out here. My friend Sapana also discussed this highly important topic in this article.
Eat more alkalizing instead of acid foods. Stick to unprocessed starches like potatoes, pumpkin etc. most of the time and consider adding more of the foods listed below.
Reduce your stress levels. This is a huge one. Your body is unable to absorb all the nutrients you consume completely if it is constantly busy balancing out your stress hormones. Try to stick to simple routines, go to sleep as early as possible and make yourself lists to stay on top of everything and not feel time pressure all of the time. Emotional stress impacts your body in many different negative ways (speaking from own experience).
Here is a list of alkaline foods:
Alkalining Vegetables: Beets, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Kale, Lettuce, Onions, Peas, Peppers, Spinach
Alkalizing Fruits: Apple, Banana, Berries, Cantaloupe, Grapes, Melon, Lemon, Orange, Peach, Pear, Watermelon
Alkalizing Plant Protein: Almonds, Chestnuts, Tofu
Alkalizing Spices: Cinnamon, Curry, Ginger, Mustard, Sea Salt
So now that we have covered why iron is so important, let's dive a litte bit deeper into what iron actually does to our bodies and why it's important for us in order to feel our best and function properly. Some vegans seem to often lack iron (surprisingly, even more often than protein - I'm just kidding, I literally don't know a single vegan lacking protein lol), so how does that come? Iron that comes from plant sources is trivalent which means it can only be absorbed by our bodies under certain circumstances. Lots of caffeine, little sleep, too much emotional and physical stress and an unbalanced gut flora can cause a disability of the body to absorb the iron that you might be consuming by eating iron-rich plant foods.
I created a little list with plant based foods that are very high in iron:
dried fruit – such as dried apricots
wholegrains – such as brown rice
most dark-green leafy vegetables – such as watercress and curly kale, but also spinach
Foods rich in vitamin C, as I already mentioned above, can even triple the bioavailability of iron. So always make sure to combine iron with vitamin C sources.
Iron absorption inhibitors
The flip side of the coin are substances that inhibit the absorption of iron. I also created a little list of these that you might stay away from as much as possible when you try to increase your iron levels again:
egg protein (from both the white and the yolk)
minerals that compete with iron for absorption: calcium, zinc, magnesium, and copper tannic acid (in tea)
certain herbs, including peppermint and chamomile
It might be helpful to avoid some of these foods just before, during, or after a meal that contains iron rich foods.
The rough amount of iron you need is:
8.7mg a day for men over 18
14.8mg a day for women aged 19-50 years
8.7mg a day for women over 50
These numbers vary from individual to individual, but it's a good guideline and simply watching your iron intake on a weekly basis should be enough. So you should normally be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet when you consider all the points I have been talking about above. However, women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly period are at higher risk of iron deficiency and may need to take iron supplements. This is completely personal and depends on each individual.
Why Do You Need Iron?
Iron is an essential mineral. The major reason we need it is that it helps to transport oxygen throughout the body. If you're not getting sufficient oxygen in the body, you're going to become fatigued. That exhaustion can affect everything from your brain function to your immune system's ability to fight off infections. Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair and nails. How much iron you need each day depends on your age, gender, and overall health. When you work out a lot, you may also have an increased need for iron as intense exercise can destroy red blood cells.
If you want to learn more about vitamin B12, jump over this paragraph here.
How Do You Know If You Suffer From Iron Deficiency?
People often don't know they have iron deficiency until they have signs or symptoms.
If you're low in iron, you may:
Feel short of breath
Feel tired and fatigued most of the time
Have difficulties exercising
Have a fast heartbeat
Have cold hands and feet
You might look more pale than usual
If your iron is very low, eating a diet that is high in iron-rich foods such as those listed above may not be enough to give you what you need. This is why I started taking iron supplements in order to increase my iron levels as quickly as possible. While you are taking iron supplements, your doctor should test your blood to see if your iron levels have improved. Let's move on to the vitamin we have been discussing in the beginning - vitamin B12.
Information About Vitamin B12
Plant sources that even contain small amounts of vitamin B12
As I already mentioned, plant-based foods don't contain high doses of vitamin B12 naturally. However, there are a few sources that do, when only in smaller amounts:
seaweed (one reason more to eat more sushi, right?) If you are lazy like me, you can just as well heat up some veggies and stuff your nori sheets with them - add some avocado, sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top, and dip into teriyaki or soy sauce- et violà!
broccoli, kimchi & munge bean sprouts (tiny, tiny amounts)
To be on the safe side, it's very easy to get your hands on some high quality vitamin B12 these days. I have already tried out many different vitamin B12 supplements and discovered a few great and a few not so great ones. The ones I got at drugstores never really seemed to work that well since I sometimes felt a bit tired after consuming a cheaper one for a couple of weeks. The price doesn't necessarily say a lot about it's quality, but it might make a difference for some products. However there are brands out there who offer good quality supplements and I especially found the best ones online. One of the brands that I have stumbled across and whose concept I really liked from the beginning was an online shop called "Made For _". They have a special concept that I think is quite handy if you want to learn more about the personal and unique needs of your own body. Before you start with choosing supplements from their website, you first fill out a survey and answer a couple of simple questions that will later give you more detailed information about what your body actually needs the most of. You will receive an email that contains information about which supplements might support your bodies natural ability to function well / even better. I did this test and my results said that the most important vitamins and nutrients for my body (due to my exercise routine, my diet, my job, my sleep patterns, stress levels etc.) are these ones:
Vitamin B12 (gives you sustainable energy levels)
Magnesium (supports your muscle regeneration)
Iron (carries oxygen through our bodies)
Maca (gives you a boost of extra power)
Astaxanthin (a very strong antioxidant that supports improved performance, brain function, sustained energy and your immune system)
vegan omega-3 (you can also find this in nuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds etc., so this was not that necessary)
Let's go through these very quickly:
Vitamin B12 might be a good supplement for anyone - no matter if you are an omnivore or herbivore. At leasts that's something I read quite often whilst doing my research for this blogpost. However, it for sure is crucial for the well-being of vegetarians and vegans. If you are physically very active, magnesium might be a good one for you to take either in the morning / evenings time or right after a workout. It supports muscle recovery. Since I have started supplementing iron, I have been able to increase my iron levels way more quickly than without taking it. I also recognized more mental clarity and my energy levels are better. Maca is also a great one. I have been supplementing it before I stumbled over Made For and I really love it's unique taste. That's why I love adding this powder to my hot chocolate drinks or chia pudding. You can also mix it into your oatmeal, müsli or into smoothie bowls. If you don't like the taste at all, a pill like the one I am taking right now is a good way to supplement it as you don't get to taste it as much. Astaxanthin has similar effects like Maca and is also very high in antioxidants which support your immune system. Vegan omega-3 might especially be interesting for those of you who might have taken fish oil capsules before and aren't too crazy about walnut, flaxseeds, avocado and other plant-based fat sources.
You can go to the Website of Made For right here and complete a test that will help you find out what your own personal needs are. I believe in the concept that every body is individual, unique and thus, our personal needs differentiate. Just like some people go well with sleeping only 6 hours a night and some might need 8-9 hours fo fully feel revitalized and energized, nutritional needs can vary from person to person. When you are ordering a personalized box, the company will send you a card alongside that will tell you exactly which supplements the little bags contains and what these do for your body. It's very simple, you get 30 bags in total (lasting you one month) and take the supplements from one packet each day before or together with your breakfast.
If you are interested in purchasing something on their website, make sure to use the discount code 'LAURA.HERDE_40' at checkout to get 40% off the total price. Even if you don't want to order anything, I can still recommend you doing the test simply to find out what your own body might need more of so you can adapt your diet to it.
Thank you to Made For for sponsoring this blog post. As always, all opinions expressed are unbiased and my own.
A few other supplements that I take on occasions
This superfoods blend made out of 10 different mushrooms by an online shop called FourSigmatic. I discovered this brand a while ago through my friend Alyse who recommended it on her YouTube-Channel. Usually, I add it into any sauces or mix it with soy yoghurt and flavored protein powder.
Top 3 Benefits of 10 Mushroom Blend * Boosts an inactive immune system and calms down a hyperactive one * Helps the body adapt to stress * Protects the body from all kinds of pathogens
I love that it supports your immunity. The blend is boosted with rose hip, which provides a natural source of vitamin C to assist with the absorption of the strong mushrooms that can even be mixed into a spinach-beetroot-ginger-apple juice or smoothie (perfect for your iron levels).
After a long and exhausting day, I love winding down with the Reishi Mushroom Elixir by the same brand mentioned above.
It helps your body in a natural way to regulate the hormonal system and lowers cortisol levels which is especially helpful throughout very busy work days. In the evening, when you need some support in calming down, it can also have a positive effect.
When taken 2 hours prior to bedtime, it can increases the amount and enhances quality of deep, slow-wave sleep.
In the mornings, I love taking the Cordyceps Elixir for a lil boost and a great kick-start into the day. :-)
In winter, when the days are very dark and I don't get outside often enough to level up my vitamin D3, I like taking these drops by Innonature. Alongside with it, I also take the vitamin K2 drops to support the vitamin D3-absorbtion. I don't know if you have ever struggled with winter depression or feeling a bit more tired / easily exhausted than usual, but I feel like my body is lacking some serious vitamin sunshine during winter. Despite its name, vitamin D is not a regular vitamin. It's actually a steroid hormone that you are designed to obtain primarily through sun exposure, not via your diet. That's why I like taking this supplement to be on the safe side and also to beat winter-depression / feeling tired or unmotivated. I feel like it works well for me but it's completely optional as well. With the discount code 'lauraherde10' you save 10% off your next order.
So that's about it! These are the supplements that I really like taking on a daily/ weekly basis. I hope you learned something new and interesting whilst reading this.
Please not that all of the products mentioned above are PR samples but recommendations that come straight from my heart. I solely share products that I am convinced of and support brands whose concepts and ethics align with my own personal beliefs. I hope that you guys enjoyed this post and took some valuable information out of it. If you have been struggling with your iron levels, I hope my tips might help you increasing them over time. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask them in the comments down below. I am not an expert whatsoever but these are just my personal experiences that have taught me how important it is to pay more attention to my daily diet and habits. Both factors can have an affect on your overall well-being. Healing your body always takes time but you can support and improve your health by making healthier lifestyle and food choices. I would love to hear your opinion on supplements, if you have ever taken any and your experiences with them. Also, let me know if you would like to read more informational blog posts on holistic health and well-being. More posts with diet advice, recipes, health tips and much more are yet to come, so make sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Instagram where I share daily mindset and health Inspo!
Love & Light,
/ This blogpost contains an affiliate link for products that I recommend. This means that I may make a small commission if you purchase any item through this link. You will not pay more when buying a product through this link. I am offering you 40% off the total price when buying a product by using the discount code 'LAURA.HERDE_40' at checkout. By ordering through my link, you will support me in creating more valuable free content for you. It also helps me continuing to offer more discount codes in the future that might interest you. Thank you for understanding and your support. It means the world to me. /
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