One of the most common questions I am asked from readers is about maintaining healthy iron levels as a vegan. Many women (at least 10% according to the CDC(1)) experience iron-deficiency, so it’s understandable to be extra concerned about iron when you think about eliminating all animal products from your diet. It’s well known that cows are a great source of iron, yet women who eat the Standard North American Diet (which is high in beef and other animal products) still suffer from this common deficiency which leads to low energy levels and muscle fatigue. But why?
The reason is, iron absorption isn’t just reliant on how much of it you consume. Like other vitamins and minerals we get from our food, iron relies on other nutrients, namely vitamin C, and a quality diet to properly absorb into our bloodstream. A Standard American Diet is famously low in vitamin C, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, and water, all of which are essential for overall health and maintaining healthy iron levels. A whole food vegan diet may be low in iron from cows, and other animal flesh, but it is high in iron from dark leafy greens, lentils, beans, and seeds. Heme-iron which comes from animals is better absorbed into our system because we too are animals, but non-heme iron will get the job done too. Whether you’re eating a vegan or carnivorous diet, it’s essential to eat plenty of wholesome plant-based foods, and avoid processed foods to protect yourself from becoming deficient.
But what about those times in our lives when we need extra iron?
Premenopausal women are more likely than men to have an iron deficiency because of our regular blood loss during menstruation, or during pregnancy. Normally it is recommended that women between the ages of 19-50 consume 18mg of iron per day. If you’re eating a healthy and balanced vegan diet you should have no problem meeting that number, or avoiding a deficiency (I’ve never had one). If you’re pregnant the recommended daily value of iron increases to 26mg. Regardless of your situation, if you have a history of iron deficiency it is understandable that you may want to take an iron supplement on top of eating a healthy vegan diet.
My choice for an iron supplement is the Blood Builder from MegaFood, which increases iron levels without causing nausea or constipation† (common side-effects of most iron supplements). According to Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, “…iron deficiency is perhaps one of the most under-recognized women’s health issues today. Unfortunately, many women have low iron levels and simply just don’t know it. It’s really become this silent epidemic that’s having a huge impact on our health.”
Of course, my belief is that we should prioritize improving our lifestyles and commit to eating a whole food plant-based diet, but supplementation is often a healthy and necessary part of that overall improvement.
Before adding the Blood Builder to my daily supplement regimen, I had never taken an iron supplement. Despite never eating beef or other red meat in my life, and being vegetarian since 2008, I’ve never shown any deficiency in my yearly blood tests. However, I do feel particularly tired and weak during my period. The Blood Builder has helped keep my monthly fatigue at bay. What I love most about this supplement is that it’s formulated with FoodState Farm Fresh Beets from Stahlbush Island Farms, Folate, B12, and Vitamin C. Beets contain nitric acid, folate, B12, and vitamin C which all support healthy red blood cell production and iron bioavailability. Blood Builder is the only iron supplement I feel safe taking because my body absorbs it like it would a food, and I don’t have to worry about constipation.
You can find Blood Builder and Blood Builder Minis nationwide at natural grocers and supplement stores, or online.
Let me know if you have any more questions about iron deficiencies or the MegaFood Blood Builder. If you’ve given Blood Builder a try, let me know what your experience was!
Note: I am a paid MegaFood ambassador but all thoughts and opinions are my own!
†D’Adamo, C., Berman, B., Chen, K., & Novick, J. (2016). Effects of a commercially-available, low-dose iron supplement (Blood Builder®) on markers of iron status among premenopausal and non-anemic, iron-deficient women. | ©FoodState, Inc. 2017
(1) CDC, 2nd National Report on the Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population