Iron. Iron is a necessary mineral in our diet that can be found in both meat and plants; however not all iron is created equal. Iron comes in two forms: heme iron which comes from animal products and non-heme iron which comes from plant sources. Whole grains, legumes and dark green leafy vegetables provide the type of iron (non-heme) that can be easily regulated by the body. Because non-heme iron responds to iron that is already stored in the body, non-heme iron does not cause the buildup of excessive stores of iron. If the body needs iron, non-heme iron is stored; if not, the non-heme iron is excreted. Heme iron works differently. Heme iron is more readily absorbed, and it does not respond to stores of iron in the body. Thus, heme-iron can accumulate over time and become highly toxic, resulting in coronary heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, cancer, oxidative stress and aging. Non-heme iron is not associated with increased risk of disease. My article "What are the Consequences of Consuming Iron from Meat?" takes an in-depth look at the differences between these two types of iron.
If we are healthy and are eating enough calories from a variety of vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruits, as well as a few nuts and seeds, our diet will provide adequate iron. But is a plant-based diet really complete? Don't we need fish for omega-3 fatty acids or animal products for Vitamin B-12? Continue reading this blog series, "Do Plant-Based Diets Require Supplements?" to find out.