I just discovered I am quite anemic and am wondering what some good plant-based options are to get myself back in balance?

There are several things for you to consider regarding anemia. First, determine the cause of the anemia such as B12, folate, losses, etc. Next, add vitamin B12 to your diet via a supplement of 1000mcg, taken sublingually daily. Green grass powders such as barley are a great source of iron, and could be added to three 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Table 1, below, is from the USDA regarding iron content of vegetables with a recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 8mg/day.[1]  

Iron deficiency anemia is not any more common among vegans/vegetarians than meat eaters because of the volume of vegetables and fruits consumed[2], even though heme iron from plants (iron is often attached to proteins called heme proteins and referred to as heme iron) is not as well absorbed as the iron found in meat, and is improved when Vitamin C is consumed with the iron-based foods.[3] Vegetables like bok choy and broccoli are high in both iron and vitamin C, making them good plant-based sources of iron. In fact studies have shown that the total absorption of iron from vegetables high in vitamin C and iron is better than the absorption of heme iron from meat.[4] Table 2 highlights this fact and should give you some confidence that you can rebuild without adding a big steak to your diet. 

  

Table 1: Iron Content of Selected Vegan Foods

Food

Amount

Iron (mg)

Soybeans, cooked

1 cup

8.8

Blackstrap molasses

2 Tbsp

7.2

Lentils, cooked

1 cup

6.6

Spinach, cooked

1 cup

6.4

Tofu

4 ounces

6.4

Bagel, enriched

1 medium

6.4

Chickpeas, cooked

1 cup

4.7

Tempeh

1 cup

4.5

Lima beans, cooked

1 cup

4.5

Black-eyed peas, cooked

1 cup

4.3

Swiss chard, cooked

1 cup

4.0

Kidney beans, cooked

1 cup

3.9

Black beans, cooked

1 cup

3.6

Pinto beans, cooked

1 cup

3.6

Turnip greens, cooked

1 cup

3.2

Potato

1 large

3.2

Prune juice

8 ounces

3.0

Quinoa, cooked

1 cup

2.8

Beet greens, cooked

1 cup

2.7

Tahini

2 Tbsp

2.7

Veggie hot dog, iron-fortified

1 hot dog

2.7

Peas, cooked

1 cup

2.5

Cashews

1/4 cup

2.1

Bok choy, cooked

1 cup

1.8

Bulgur, cooked

1 cup

1.7

Raisins

1/2 cup

1.6

Apricots, dried

15 halves

1.4

Veggie burger, commercial

1 patty

1.4

Watermelon

1/8 medium

1.4

Almonds

1/4 cup

1.3

Kale, cooked

1 cup

1.2

Sunflower seeds

1/4 cup

1.2

Broccoli, cooked

1 cup

1.1

Millet, cooked

1 cup

1.1

Soy yogurt

6 ounces

1.1

Tomato juice

8 ounces

1.0

Sesame seeds

2 Tbsp

1.0

Brussels sprouts, cooked

1 cup

0.9



Table 2: Comparison of Iron Sources

Food                                                     

Iron (mg/100 calories)

Spinach, cooked

15.5

Collard greens, cooked

4.5

Lentils, cooked

2.9

Broccoli, cooked

1.9

Chickpeas, cooked

1.8

Sirloin steak, choice, broiled

0.9

Hamburger, lean, broiled

0.8

Chicken, breast roasted, no skin

0.6

Pork chop, pan fried

0.4

Flounder, baked

0.3

Milk, skim

0.1

 



[1] The RDA for iron is 8 mg/day for adult men and for post-menopausal women and 18 mg/day for pre-menopausal women. Vegetarians (including vegans) may need up to 1.8 times more iron.

 

[2] Obeid R, Geisel J, Schorr H, et al. The impact of vegetarianism on some haematological parameters. Eur J Haematol. 2002;69:275-9.

[3] Hallberg L. Bioavailability of dietary iron in man. Ann Rev Nutr 1981;1:123-147.

[4] Gleerup A, Rossander Hulthen L, Gramatkovski E, et al. Iron absorption from the whole diet: comparison of the effect of two different distributions of daily calcium intake. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;61:97-104.