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Everyone knows iron is an important part of any diet—but have you ever thought about why? Iron delivers oxygen to working muscles, making it necessary for blood flow and an essential component of a runner’s diet. Without enough iron in the bloodstream, you may suffer from iron deficiency anemia. Although it doesn’t sound too serious, the symptoms of iron deficiency include extreme exhaustion, lightheadedness, headaches and frequent infections. Doesn’t sound fun, does it?
Unfortunately, iron from plants is not as well absorbed as iron from animals, so vegetarians and vegans are prone to developing anemia. That being said, it’s absolutely possible to get enough iron from plant sources if you eat a diet that is rich in the following 10 foods.
There’s a reason Popeye used this leafy vegetable to make his magical muscles grow. Two cups of raw spinach—about the amount you would have in a large salad—has 15 percent of your suggested daily amount of iron. If eating veggies isn’t your thing, throw a handful into a fruit smoothie.
Lentils rank pretty high on the list of plant-based iron-rich foods. With more than 35 percent of your daily value of iron in just a cup of cooked lentils, they serve up more of the oxygen delivering nutrient than most meats. Add lentils to your next Meatless Monday dinner recipe, like a meat-free bolognese or lentil loaf.
The fall season calls for everything pumpkin, right? Just one ounce (about a handful) of this fall favorite delivers a good helping of iron. Munch on some of these nutrition-packed seeds as a pre-run snack.
Not only is tofu a good source of protein: it’s also rich in iron. Just six ounces of this vegan favorite has about 20 percent of your recommended daily dose of iron. Tofu is pretty tasteless, so it easily takes on the flavors of whatever it’s marinated in. You can use it in place of eggs in a tofu scramble or chicken in a stir fry.
Looking for a sweeter way to get your iron in? Look no further than this fruity treat. One cup of dried apricots is a great source of iron, and they make delicious toppings for salads or oatmeal.
If you’ve never had amaranth, it’s an ancient grain that is higher in iron than quinoa. It also contains other important nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Substitute the amaranth in for the grain in your Buddha bowl.
Want a quick and easy breakfast with iron? Many cereal options have iron added in, so just take a look at the nutrition label the next time you’re grocery shopping.
This tiny seed has big health benefits. With omega-3 fatty acids and about 10 percent of your daily iron requirement in two tablespoons, flaxseeds are a great addition to smoothies, salads and hot cereals.
Everyone’s favorite legume is actually a good source of iron, with close to 10 percent of your daily value in one cup. You can use mashed chickpeas in baking, or toss them on a baking sheet and roast in the oven with some olive oil and salt for a crunchy snack.
White potatoes sometimes get a bad rap, but these tubers are loaded with beneficial nutrients, like 25 percent of your daily value of iron. Potatoes also make a great addition to practically any meal. Make a hash for breakfast, toss them in a salad for lunch or load up a baked potato for dinner.