Vegetarians and vegans often worry about the level of iron that they consume, as meat, poultry and fish are all rich sources of this nutrient. In reality, the amount of iron found in beans, leafy green vegetables and enriched cereals comes pretty close to that in meats. Why, then, are vegetarians and vegans often lacking iron in their blood?
Iron comes in two forms: nonheme and heme. Meats and other animal products contain iron in the ‘heme’ form. This form of iron is easily absorbed and stored in the human body. Nonheme iron, on the other hand, is not processed as efficiently in the body, and so it is more difficult to maintain healthy stores of iron with foods that contain it. Also, many vegetarian foods contain phytate, a protein which interferes with iron absorption. Vegetables, grains, soy; all these foods contain such proteins.