Vegetarians: It’s Not Just Vitamin B12

We so often warn vegetarians that they need to find a reliable source of vitamin B12. However, iron is a nutrient that is assumed to be adequate in the vegan diet, but due to its bioavailability issues, it is often not enough to prevent an iron deficiency, especially in women and children. Iron deficiency is a disorder that results from a depletion of iron stores in the body. It is characterized by weakness, fatigue, short attention span, poor appetite, increased susceptibility to infection, and irritability.

How does  iron function in the body?

  1. Oxygen enters the lungs.
  2. Oxygen attaches to iron in hemoglobin and myoglobin (found in red blood cells and muscle cells.
  3. Oxygenated hemoglobin transported in blood to body cells, drops off oxygen.
  4. Iron in hemoglobin then picks up carbon dioxide from cells and transports it to the lungs.
  5. Carbon dioxide is released from iron in hemoglobin
  6. Carbon dioxide is exhaled from the lungs.

This function of iron operates smoothly when the body’s supply of iron is sufficient. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. For example, a 3-ounce hamburger and a cup of asparagus both contain approximately 3 milligrams of iron, but 20 times more iron can be absorbed from the hamburger than from  the asparagus. See the following article for why  this occurs and what to do about it. Souce: Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now, 7th edition