14 Vegetarian Foods That Have More Iron Than Meat

Your best meat-free options to boost your iron levels.

November 18, 2016
bok choy
ami mataraj/shutterstock

Whether you’re a lifelong vegetarian or are actively transitioning to a non-meat diet, a common concern is making sure you still consume plenty of iron. According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) of iron for adults is 8-27 mg per day, with adult men tending toward the lower end, while older women and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more (check out these skin-care products you can safely use while pregnant).

While meat is often at the top of the list of recommended sources of iron, there are plenty of non-meat options that contain the same amount of iron, or more, than meat. So no need to give up on your vegetarian diet and reach for a burger (or a multivitamin)—these 14 foods will easily boost your iron intake. 

(Slash your cholesterol, burn stubborn belly fat, solve your insomnia, and more—naturally!—with Rodale's Eat For Extraordinary Health & Healing!)

1/14 Leszek Czerwonka/shutterstock

Dark leafy greens, especially spinach, provide a powerhouse of iron. Three cups of spinach contain about 18 mg of iron—that's more than an 8-ounce steak! You can meet your daily RDA of iron with just one hearty spinach salad. (Give this spinach-avocado caesar salad a try!)

2/14 Kiattipong/shutterstock

Not only is broccoli jam-packed with iron and other key nutrients like vitamin K and magnesium, it’s also high in vitamin C, which helps encourage iron absorption in the body. (And you may be surprised to learn that it's quite good in smoothies.)

Related: How To Grow Your Own Broccoli

3/14 Dream79/shutterstock

Just one cup of lentils has more iron than an 8-ounce steak. Lentils are also a solid source for dietary fiber, potassium, and protein. You can add lentils to your salad, or try soup—make it in bulk, then freeze the leftovers for later. 

4/14 John E. Manuel/shutterstock

Three cups of kale contain 3.6 mg of iron. Try this kale salad or this kale and lemon pizza.

bok choy
5/14 ami mataraj/shutterstock
Bok Choy

Whether you steam or sauté this tasty Chinese cabbage, you’ll be getting a healthy dose of vitamin A, in addition to 1.8 mg of iron per cup. 

Related: 12 Crazy-Good Ways To Cook Bok Choy

baked potato
6/14 Robyn Mackenzie/shutterstock
Baked Potato

One large baked potato contains nearly three times the amount of iron as a 3-ounce serving of chicken. Top it with Greek yogurt (a high-protein substitute for sour cream), steamed broccoli, and a bit of melted cheese for a tasty weeknight dinner.

sesame seeds
7/14 Le Do/shutterstock
Sesame Seeds

Just one tablespoon of sesame seeds contains 1.3 mg of iron. And it's super simple to incorporate them into your diet, too. Sprinkle sesame seeds over a salad for added flavor and crunch or mix them into a dressing, sauce, or salsa before pouring over a dish. 

8/14 Lotus Images/shutterstock

Nuts of all kinds are a well-known protein sources for vegetarians, but cashews have the added benefit of being very rich in iron. One ¼-cup serving contains about 2 grams of iron. Not a fan of their nutty texture? Hide them in a smoothie to get the health benefits without the grit.

9/14 JIANG HONGYAN/shutterstock

A single cup of cooked soybeans contains between 8 and 9 mg of iron. These legumes are a great source of protein, too (they're one of the 20 highest protein vegetarian foods). Just be sure to seek out organic soy products rather than conventional, which may be genetically modified.

Related: I Tried The Tofurky Easter Ham—So You Don't Have To

10/14 Diana Taliun/shutterstock

One cup of chickpeas contains 4.7 mg of iron, more than half the daily RDA for an adult male. Roast them in a bit of olive oil for a crunchy snack, or mix them with tomatoes, feta, and cucumber to create a savory side dish. 

dark chocolate
11/14 Olena Kaminetska/shutterstock
Dark Chocolate

The benefits of dark chocolate seem endless. In addition to promoting healthier skin and teeth and reducing anxiety, dark chocolate also offers a sweet way to up your iron intake. One ounce of dark chocolate contains 2 to 3 mg of iron, more iron than in the same amount of beef.

Related: The 19 Most Indulgent And Earth-Friendly Chocolates

rainbow chard
12/14 Azdora/shutterstock
Swiss Chard

Just one cup of Swiss chard has 4 mg of iron, more than a 6-ounce hamburger. Swiss chard also contains valuable nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and K, and B folates. 

Related: 13 Foods That Have More Potassium Than A Banana

13/14 AleksandraN/shutterstock

A vegetarian staple for years, firm tofu boasts 3 mg of iron per half cup. There are countless recipes for using tofu, from a simple stir-fry to a sweet, homemade peach sorbet

Related: 7 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Cook Tofu

kidney beans
14/14 Jomic/shutterstock
Kidney Beans

Kidney beans contain 3-4 mg of iron per cup. Be sure to cook kidney beans to get the best flavor and texture. Kidney beans are the superstars of vegetarian chili, often acting as a hearty base ingredient in favor of meat options. Consider purchasing dried beans in bulk for a budget-friendly option.