Sources of iron for vegetarians are easy enough to find, but they do need a bit of help getting properly absorbed into your body.
You can find iron in most beans, as well as the leafy greens and molasses. The iron intake of most vegans and vegetarians is actually pretty high, since iron per calorie is higher in plan foods than animal foods.
But there's an issue with absorption of plant-based iron...
The iron in plant foods is a different form than the iron in animal foods, and can be more difficult to absorb. But there are some simple things you can do to counteract that and get plenty of plant-based iron.
Vitamin C helps your body absorb plant food sources of iron, so eating lots of vitamin C-rich foods is a great way to improve your iron levels. Leafy greens are a great source of vitamin C as well as iron, so they do double duty. Citrus, berries and bell peppers good source of vitamin C as well.
Vegans and vegetarians who eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit have a pretty high intake of vitamin C, and it tends to offset the lower absorption rate of plant sources of iron.
The tannins in coffee and tea (black or green) interfere with iron absorption when you drink it at the same time as you eat foods with iron. Drinking coffee and tea only between meals seems to be alright.
Phytic acid (in things like seeds, beans, grains and raw spinach and chard) also interferes with iron absorption, but vitamin C helps counteract that effect. It's also broken down when you soak and/or cook those foods properly.
The government's daily reference intake of iron is 8mg/day for adult men and 18mg/day for adult women before menopause. Iron needs jump to 23mg/day for pregnant women, and drop to 8mg/day for women after menopause.
Those recommendations are based on a mix of animal and plant sources of iron. For vegans, who only get plant sources, the government recommendation is to get nearly twice that amount because of the lower absorption rate.
If you want to read more about the scientific studies and research, and get a more in-depth look at the differences between plant and animal sources of iron, check out this article by Jack Norris on VeganHealth.org.
Data from nutritiondata.com
Try out some of these recipes using the iron-rich foods listed above:
Getting enough iron for the day entirely from food is possible, but it can be difficult for vegetarians to get enough - especially for women during pregnancy.
Iron supplements are one to be very careful of, because you can take too much. If you think you're deficient, the best plan is to get your blood tested to be sure you need a supplement. If you are deficient, work with your doctor to figure out a safe dose for yourself to catch up.
The government's 'tolerable upper intake level' (aka the maximum amount you should take without a doctor telling you to because you're severely deficient) is 45 mg/day for adults (40mg/day for children).
Iron is also one nutrient to be really careful of what type you get, to make sure that it's absorbed properly without negative side effects.
Here are the three highest quality vegan iron supplements I've found, in no specific order. The first two include iron as well as folate and B12 (since deficiency of iron, folate and B12 have similar symptoms), and even some Vitamin C to help boost absorption. The third is just iron on its own, since many people eat enough and take a multivitamin to cover the other nutrients.
Note: these are Amazon affiliate links, so I get a few cents if you order through these links.
If you worry about getting enough iron in general, you can also take a multivitamin with iron in it. Deva makes a great multi with or without iron, and that way you get a balanced dose of all the vitamins and minerals you need together.
Taking iron in a multivitamin supplement isn't as effective if you're working to correct a deficiency, though, because your body may need iron specifically in a higher dose than normal to catch up.