Does your vegetarian daughter have her period?

Iron and the vegetarian diet 

Vegetarian diets can be healthy and your kids can thrive on a vegetarian diet as long as they are eating properly. There are however a few nutrients we need to be mindful of when meat is removed from someone’s diet. One such key nutrient is iron.

When my girls decided to give up meat they hadn’t started their period yet so there wasn’t much thought given to their iron levels. Once periods came in to the picture, things changed a bit. At our yearly checkups we asked for blood tests to verify iron levels so we would know if we should be supplementing or making any dietary modifications.

If you aren’t quite sure what iron does, here is the scoop:

Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Hemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body’s iron. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. All this to say iron it is important and we need to make sure that menstruating girls have adequate levels.

There are two forms of dietary iron:

  1. Heme iron is found only in meat, poultry, seafood and fish.
  2. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods like grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

It seems the human body more easily absorbs iron from animal products than iron derived from plant foods so for those who follow a vegetarian diet and don’t eat animal derived foods it is important to be aware of how much iron-rich food you are eating. If you want to improve the absorption of iron you are eating it is good to pair iron-rich foods with Vitamin C.

Finding plant-based foods that are rich in iron is very important for those following a vegetarian diet, so consider sending some dried apricots or pumpkin seeds to school as a snack or sneaking leafy greens into a smoothie.

Here is a list of some foods and their iron content:

Food Amount Iron (mg)
Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp 7.2
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 6.6
Tofu 1/2 cup 6.6
Spinach,cooked 1 cup 6.4
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 5.2
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 4.7
Soybeans,cooked 1 cup 4.5
Tempeh 1 cup 4.5
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 4.5
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 4.3
Swiss chard, cooked 1 cup 4.0
Bagel, enriched 1 medium 3.8
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 3.6
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 3.6
Veggie hot dog, iron-fortified 1 hot dog 3.6
Prune juice 8 ounces 3.0
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 2.8
Beet greens, cooked 1 cup 2.7
Tahini 2 Tbsp 2.7
Peas, cooked 1 cup 2.5
Cashews 1/4 cup 2.0
Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup 1.9
Potato with skin 1 large 1.9
Bok choy, cooked 1 cup 1.8
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 1.7
Raisins 1/2 cup 1.5
Apricots, dried 15 halves 1.4
Soy yogurt 6 ounces 1.4
Veggie burger, commercial 1 patty 1.4
Watermelon 1/8 medium 1.4
Almonds 1/4 cup 1.3
Sesame seeds 2 Tbsp 1.2
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 1.2
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 1.2
Millet, cooked 1 cup 1.1
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 1.0
Kale, cooked 1 cup 1.0
Tomato juice 8 ounces 1.0
Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Legacy, 2018 and manufacturer’s

If you’d like to discuss your daughter and some tips for incorporating more iron-rich foods in to her diet, email

Don’t forget to grab a copy of Vegetarian Teen Basics For Busy Parents at  for tips, tricks and on-going support.