What’s the Deal With Iron?


The long awaited next installment in our What’s The Deal series is finally here. Iron is a nutrient of significant debate in the general public, especially among athletes and people eating plant-based diets. Besides protein, iron may be the first thing thought to be a major deficiency among vegans and vegetarians. But what does the science say? Surprisingly, there is fairly little debate among the scientific community regarding this nutrient. It’s not that controversial. It’s definitely not poorly studied. In fact, a lot has been learned and applied regarding this mineral. However, iron deficiency is the number one nutrient deficiency in the world, so this is a very important dietary component. So, we decided to tackle the research and look into how iron actually works and if it is of major concern if you eat a plant based diet.

After defining and characterizing iron, we discuss and address a few common claims, such as:

  • You can’t get enough iron on a plant-based diet, especially as an athlete
  • Plant sources of iron are of lower quality than animal sources and are not absorbed as well
  • Oxalates found in plant foods inhibit the absorption of iron

We then looked at our own individual diets in a day to see how we stack up in terms of iron intake, and then talk about ways to get in iron rich foods from plants and how to absorb iron more effectively. It’s a pretty science-rich episode that remains pretty short, so we hope you got some useful information out of it and boosted your confidence about talking about iron.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to leave us a nice review of the show on iTunes, it truly means a lot and our day is infinitely better when we get to read your kind words. It also helps us tremendously to grow the show and reach more listeners! If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to our YouTube channel, Thought For Food TV, to watch what we do during the day and some behind the scenes of TFF. If you have questions that you’d like for us to answer on a future Q&A podcast, send them to tfflifestyle@gmail.com. Thank you so much for listening, go eat some plants, and what’s your thought for food?

-Jackson and Aaron

Show Notes


Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 Jun;103(6):748-65

Davey GK, Spencer EA, Appleby PN, Allen NE, Knox KH, Key TJ. EPIC-Oxford: lifestyle characteristics and nutrient intakes in a cohort of 33 883 meat-eaters and 31 546 non meat-eaters in the UK. Public Health Nutr. 2003 May;6(3):259-69.

Haddad EH, Berk LS, Kettering JD, Hubbard RW, Peters WR. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):586S-593S.

Alexander D, Ball MJ, Mann J. Nutrient intake and haematological status of vegetarians and age-sex matched omnivores. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994 Aµg;48(8):538-46.

Waldmann A, Koschizke JW, Leitzmann C, Hahn A. Dietary iron intake and iron status of German female vegans: results of the German vegan study. Ann Nutr Metab. 2004;48(2):103-8. Epub 2004 Feb 25.

Fang, X., An, P., Wang, H., Wang, X., Shen, X., Li, X., … & Wang, F. (2015). Dietary intake of heme iron and risk of cardiovascular disease: A dose–response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 25(1), 24-35.

genannt Bonsmann, S. S., Walczyk, T., Renggli, S., & Hurrell, R. F. (2008). Oxalic acid does not influence nonhaem iron absorption in humans: a comparison of kale and spinach meals. European journal of clinical nutrition, 62(3), 336-341.

Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(3), 543.

Kaluza, J., Wolk, A., & Larsson, S. C. (2013). Heme iron intake and risk of stroke a prospective study of men. Stroke, 44(2), 334-339.

Bao, W., Rong, Y., Rong, S., & Liu, L. (2012). Dietary iron intake, body iron stores, and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC medicine, 10(1), 1.

Fonseca-Nunes, A., Jakszyn, P., & Agudo, A. (2013). Iron and cancer risk—a systematic review and meta-analysis of the epidemiological evidence. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.

Saunders, A. V., Craig, W. J., Baines, S. K., & Posen, J. S. (2012). Iron and vegetarian diets. Medical Journal of Australia, 9, 11.


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