The caricature of the pale, weak, sickly vegan is sometimes attributed to a perceived lack of protein in the diet, but it can also come from a perceived lack of iron, which most people think is only found in red meat.
Iron is the mineral that the body needs to produce red blood cells, which in turn carry oxygen and essential nutrients throughout the body, in addition to maintaining healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.
Insufficient iron, called anemia, can cause problems like shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, brittle nails and hair, a sore tongue, and even cravings for strange substances like dirt or clay.
We know that the picture of the “sickly vegan” is not true for everyone on a vegan diet – it’s entirely possible to get more than enough iron through plant-based foods alone, such as lentils, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, and tomato sauce.
However, for some people, the iron from food may simply not be enough, and they may need to supplement with iron, even for a short time. You may fit into one of these groups, or you may simply wish to fill any nutritional gaps with an iron supplement.
Quick NavigationReasons for Iron SupplementationList of Vegan Iron SupplementsWhat To Look for in an Iron SupplementElemental IronSide EffectsDosagePrecautions for Iron SupplementationHelp in the Iron Department
Reasons for Iron Supplementation
While many people get adequate amounts of iron from their diet, it’s one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 10% of women are deficient in iron.
In fact, being a woman of childbearing age is one of the groups that benefit from iron supplementation. Menstruation, along with any condition where someone experiences regular bleeding, depletes iron stores, causing women to have a much higher daily recommended allowance of iron than men, around 15-18 milligrams per day.
Pregnant women need even more than that, closer to 27 milligrams per day. While most prenatal vitamins include iron, it isn’t healthy to double up on these, as getting too much of other vitamins isn’t good for your baby’s development. Pregnant women should talk with their doctor about taking an additional iron supplement along with a prenatal vitamin.
Female athletes can also benefit from an iron supplement, as they are at an increased risk for iron deficiency. While the exact reasoning is still hazy, researchers hypothesize that athletes need more red blood cells to carry oxygen to working muscles, which means they have higher iron needs than someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle.
Some medications can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron, and can cause symptoms of anemia in the people taking them. If you’re taking quinolones, tetracycline, ranitidine, omeprazole, angiotensin, or colestipol, your doctor may suggest taking an iron supplement, as these medications inhibit iron absorption in the body.
The last group of people who could benefit from iron supplementation are those already experiencing iron deficiency anemia. If your iron stores are low, it can be tough for your body to build those stores back up while carrying out day-to-day functions through diet alone. If your iron is already depleted, talk to your doctor about adding an iron supplement to give your body a boost and help get you back to healthy levels.
So if you are someone who could use an iron supplement, what type of supplement should you buy? In addition to needing something with the right amount of iron for your body, vegans need to be on the lookout for certain ingredients, and can choose supplements that cater specifically to those eating an entirely plant-based diet.
Luckily, veganism has come a long way since its origins, so there are lots of vegan iron supplement options for those who are avoiding animal products. There are countless supplements available online and at your local store, but we’ve rounded up the top five iron supplements for vegans so you can easily find a product that’ll meet your needs.
List of Vegan Iron Supplements
Solgar - Gentle Iron Vegetable Capsules
Our #1 Top Pick
Solgar’s vegan-friendly Vegicaps contain 25mg of iron and are free of sugar, salt, starch, corn, yeast, wheat, soy, dairy, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors.
The capsules use belly-friendly iron bisglycinate, which is a unique form of chelated iron to achieve maximum absorption without causing stomach problems or constipation.
What We Love
Amazon users report a huge improvement in iron levels taking this product. One user saw an increase from 26 to 94 in 5 months of consistent use. Additionally, those with Restless Leg Syndrome also saw quick improvement, in both blood work and a general decrease in RLS symptoms. These results were all achieved without any sign of upset stomach or other gastrointestinal issues.
While the Solgar Vegicaps are a source of “gentle” iron, many Amazon users advise against taking these on an empty stomach. Some people noted that they did suffer aches and nausea when taking these without any food, so make sure to take this with breakfast or following a meal.
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Iron
Garden of Life is a popular company specializing in raw products. Their Vitamin Code Iron provides a raw probiotic and enzyme blend, together with a raw organic fruit and vegetable blend for additional nutritional support.
In addition to being an excellent source of iron, with 22mg of whole food iron per capsule, the supplement also provides Vitamin C, B12, and folate to maximize iron absorption.
The capsules are completely raw, non-GMO, and gluten-free.
What We Love
Amazon reviewers note that these vegan iron pills work and work quickly! Some reported feeling a difference in energy levels within the first 3-5 days of using the product, and the pills do not cause the gastric distress and constipation that can come from typical iron supplements.
Some customers on Amazon reported that this product caused them to break out in hives. It’s unclear as to whether the iron in the supplement or the many other ingredients causes the reaction, so if you have food sensitivities or are prone to reactions like hives, be wary when choosing this product – try a quarter or half a pill at a time.
VegLife Vegan Iron
Each bottle of vegan iron supplements from VegLife contains 100 coated tablets, each with 25mg iron, as well as Vitamin C, folic acid, and Vitamin b12 for superior utilization of the mineral.
The supplements utilize a vegetable base made from vegetable cellulose and a blend of carrot, broccoli, and tomato concentrates.
The tablets are very small, so they’re easy to swallow, especially for those who have trouble swallowing full pills.
What We Love
What We Love: In addition to the small, easy-to-swallow tablets, VegLife’s Iron pills are gentle on the stomach, don’t cause constipation, and contain b12 as well as the daily recommended dose of iron. Amazon reviewers note that these tiny pills are super effective, seeing results on blood tests within about a month of supplementing.
The Downside: Some reviewers note that this product made light, black stains on their teeth. Additionally, others noted some frustration with the packaging, as there are lots of tiny pills in a very large bottle, which takes up a lot of space in the medicine cabinet.
Trace Minerals Research - Liquid Ionic Iron
For those who have difficulty swallowing pills, a liquid supplement may be the best option.
Trace Minerals liquid iron is a highly bioavailable vegan iron supplement that’s easy to take straight from the bottle, or mixed with juice or water.
The 8 fluid ounce bottles are professional grade and made in the United States.
What We Love
The addition of magnesium makes this liquid iron supplement a real winner. Many purchasers mix it with distilled water to help replenish iron, magnesium, and other minerals all in one supplement. Reviewers with muscle spasms noted that this supplement was extremely helpful in managing symptoms, and many saw improvement in as little as two weeks of use.
As opposed to reviewers for some of the capsule supplements on this list, this liquid iron doesn’t get rave reviews as some of the others. Some reviewers reported that they felt no difference even after finishing an entire bottle of the stuff. Additionally, some people found the taste of the liquid to be overpowering, even when mixed with beverages. However, for people who can’t swallow pills, a quick toss back may need to be the only option.
Deva Chelated Iron
Deva’s Chelated Iron Tablets are high-potency, containing 29 milligrams of iron per tablet and fortified with Vitamin B12, which is a great addition for vegans.
This supplement uses amino acid chelates, which have been demonstrated to be a safe and effective source of iron for people who are deficient in the nutrient.
The pills are certified by the Vegan Society as a 100% animal-friendly way to boost iron intake.
What We Love
These tablets are a perfect solution for people who need to take in more iron, but have difficulty taking a straight iron tablet due to gastrointestinal distress. Reviewers on Amazon note a noticeable difference in the lushness and shininess of their hair, strength of their nails, and a reduction in bruising after taking these supplements.
The Downside: As these tablets are not coated, there is a strong metallic taste and smell when taking these supplements. Some reviewers note that the taste makes swallowing the pills difficult, and it needs to be taken or chased with a strong-tasting liquid.
What To Look for in an Iron Supplement
The products on this list are just a small sample of what’s out there – throughout your shopping travels; you may come across something not included on this list, or you may be unable to find the items contained in this guide.
So, when you come across an iron supplement in the wild, what should you look for? What are the ingredients you should avoid? With a few simple guidelines, choosing the perfect iron supplement is simple.
When reading the back of an iron supplement, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help you guide your choice.
First and foremost, you’ll want to pay attention to “elemental iron”. This is the amount of iron that’s available to be absorbed – for example, a supplement may read “300 mg” on the front of the bottle, but a closer look reveals that there are 60 mg of elemental iron, or amount that your body can use.
Elemental iron is necessary not only to make sure you’re getting the amount of iron you need but also to make sure you’re not getting too much iron – we’ll talk more about why this could be an issue later on.
As the guide above likely clued you in on, the next thing you’ll want to consider is side effects.
Iron supplements, like capsules or tablets, often cause some unpleasant digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and indigestion.
If you’re worried about the possible side effects from your supplement, reach for a pill that advertises “gentle iron,” which is less likely to cause stomach issues, or start off with a small dose and increase from there, so you can get a sense of how the supplement affects your body.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider dosage. If you need to take four large pills to get your full amount of iron, you may be less likely to take it than if it all came wrapped up in one small, easy-to-swallow capsule.
To treat and prevent iron deficiency, keeping on a regular supplementation schedule is key, so you’ll want to find a product whose dosing schedule fits your lifestyle.
It may be a good idea, and easier for you, in the long run, to consult your doctor or pharmacist, who can help you find the perfect supplement.
Precautions for Iron Supplementation
Involving your doctor or pharmacist isn’t only a good idea because you’re channeling their expertise, but also because iron is one of the few minerals that can cause adverse effects if you take too much.
Unlike other vitamins and minerals, where your body can get rid of excess amounts, iron is fat-soluble, which means the body stores even too much iron in the body.
Even a little bit of excess iron in vital organs increases the risk for liver disease, heart attack or failure, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, and even in some cases, death.
Because of the adverse effects that can come with too much iron, you won’t want to take the chance of taking in too much, especially if giving the iron supplements to children.
Iron supplement overdose is the most common cause of fatal accidental poisoning in children under age 6, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Your body will start to clue you in if you’re getting too much iron, so be sure to pay attention to any changes you experience while taking iron supplements. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, joint pain, abdominal pain, irregular heart rhythm, and skin color changes, often with the skin becoming a bronze or gray-green.
For these reasons, it is best to consult your healthcare professional if you are beginning or thinking of taking an iron supplement in addition to your diet.
Help in the Iron Department
While it’s possible to take in adequate amounts of iron through a varied diet rich in plant-based foods, some people with certain conditions or in specific walks of life may benefit from an additional iron boost from a pill or capsule.
Luckily, vegans have no shortage of options when it comes to these products, and with a few ground rules in mind, choosing an iron supplement that works with your lifestyle is a breeze.
Before embarking on an iron supplement or any supplementation regimen, it’s important to discuss any changes with your doctor, as too much iron can lead to side effects that range anywhere from mildly unpleasant to fatal.
Fill your healthcare professional in on your new routine, do your research, and enjoy higher amounts of energy and a healthier body and mind.