Unless your parents forbade television, you’re no doubt familiar with Popeye’s statement that he’s ‘strong to the finish, ‘cause I eats my spinach.’ The popular refrain plus a mathematical error led millions of Americans’ to believe that spinach was so high in iron it made you strong and healthy. There’s no doubt that iron rich vegetables are important in our diets, but there are many other vegetables that are higher in iron than spinach. What other vegetables are rich in iron? Let’s find out.
In 1870, a German chemist, Eric von Wolf, was researching the amount of iron in leafy green vegetables, including spinach. Turns out he found out that spinach had 3.5 milligrams of iron in a 100 gram serving; however, when recording the data, he missed a decimal point and wrote the serving contained 35 milligrams!
The rest is history and this error and the popular cartoon were responsible for boosting spinach consumption in the United States by a third! Although the math was rechecked and the myth debunked in 1937, many people still think that spinach is the most iron rich of vegetables.
The human body can’t produce iron on its own, so we need to eat foods to support our iron requirements. Men and post-menopausal women need about 8 mg. of iron per day. Menstruating women need more, about 18 mg. per day, and pregnant women need even more at 27 mg. per day.
Many people get all the iron their bodies need from red meat, which is very iron dense. Red meat often has more calories too, in part due to its method of preparation or accompanying condiments or sauces than that iron rich veggies.
While spinach is still considered fairly high in iron, there are many other options out there for the vegan, vegetarian or for those who wish for a lower calorie option to red meat. In fact, this is why many vegans and vegetarians eat tofu. Tofu is made from soybeans, an excellent source of iron and also calcium, phosphorous and magnesium.
Lentils, beans and peas are all iron-rich vegetables. Beans are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber, folate, phosphorous, potassium, and manganese as well.
Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, have a significant amount of iron per serving. This is categorized as a non-heme iron. Non-heme iron, or plant-based iron, is more difficult to absorb into the human body than heme iron, which comes from animals. That’s why vegetarians are recommended to increase their intake of iron to 1.8 times higher than that of meat eaters.
Green veggies that are high in iron include not only spinach but:
Tomatoes have little iron, but when they are dried or concentrated, their iron levels increase, so indulge in some sundried tomatoes or incorporate tomato paste into your cooking.
My mom always told me to eat the skin of my baked potato and it turns out there’s a reason. Although potatoes contain iron, the skin has the most significant amount. Plus, they contain fiber, vitamin C, potassium and B6.
If you are a mycophagist, a lover of mushrooms, you’re also in luck. One cup of cooked white mushrooms contains 2.7 mg. of iron. That said, while portabella and shiitake mushrooms might be delicious, they have very little iron. However, oyster mushrooms have twice as much as white mushrooms!
Many vegetables contain significant levels of iron, but their ratio of weight to volume is larger than that of meat, which would make it difficult, if not impossible, to ingest enough to absorb the daily recommended amount of iron. That’s okay, though. That’s why many of our veggies are cooked, allowing us to consume larger amounts and reap the benefits of not only their iron levels but many other vitamins and nutrients.
Water that has iron in it often has a slight odor, an unpleasant taste and may appear slightly yellow or brown in some cases. While it may not be enjoyable to drink iron-rich water, in most cases it won't harm you. Water with iron in it is typically okay to use on plants as well, and may even be beneficial to the plants in some situations.
These packed-with-vitamins vegetable plants will bring good taste and good health to your garden and to your table.
Want to greatly reduce your risk of a whole host of diseases? Broccoli is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. Experts have said that this nutrient-rich vegetable may also help lower the risk of some cancers.
Grow broccoli, as a fall and spring vegetable that does best in a sunny site, in well-drained soil.
Beets are full of fiber, nitrates and other healthy nutrients like folate, manganese, potassium, iron and vitamin C.
Like potatoes, okra and carrots, beets need moderate amounts of fertilizer to do well. Start by planting them in loose, well-drained soil that’s been enriched with compost, and mix fertilizer in the planting holes or rows.
Heralded as a superfood, kale is packed with vitamins and minerals including iron, vitamin A, K and C and beta-carotene. This dark, leafy green, sometimes referred to as "the queen of greens" is also low in calories, high in fiber and antioxidants.
Better still, frost actually enhances the taste of this cool weather crop.
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a great source of beta carotene and are also rich in fiber, vitamin C and potassium.
Swap out your Idaho spud for a delicious sweet potato, naturally sweet and great topped with some vanilla yogurt and nuts.
Take a cue from Popeye and be strong to the finish when you eat your spinach. Easy to grow, spinach can aid in preventing age-related macular degeneration and can keep artery walls free of cholesterol which can help in the prevention of heart attacks. It's also rich in vitamins A, C and K.
Find some great recipes using leafy greens here.
Rich in beta carotene, carrots are cool-weather garden favorites. Carrots are also a vitamin powerhouse and come in a variety of hues beyond orange including purple, yellow and white.
Best when not overcooked, Brussels sprouts — which are in the cruciferous family along with broccoli, cauliflower and kale — are loaded with nutritional value including vitamins C and K and folate, calcium, iron and potassium. Brussels sprouts provide nutritional support for the detoxification and anti-inflammatory functions of the body, which may aid in fighting cancer. This powerhouse veg may also play a role in fighting heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In addition, the carotenoids found in Brussels sprouts have a positive effect on vision.
This hardy, slow-growing cool weather crop does well in even freezing temperatures.
Though we have learned to associate brightly colored or dark green vegetables with greater health benefits, the pale cauliflower is surprisingly good for you. High in vitamin C and manganese — two powerful antioxidants — cauliflower has been linked to possible cancer prevention especially of bladder, colon, breast, prostate and ovarian cancers.
A relative of the onion, garlic is a fall crop that contains phytochemicals which may help in reducing high blood pressure, lowering cancer rates and fighting infection.
Avocados are full of heart-protective properties and taste incredible to boot but these subtropical trees tend to do best in garden zones below 8.
Avocados are also loaded with fiber, folate, a variety of B vitamins as well as vitamins E and K. Avocados contain healthy unsaturated "good" fats and antioxidants that some say can help prevent age-related macular degeneration, strengthen bones, fight inflammation and lower cholesterol, along with a host of other benefits.
Packed with the antioxidant lycophene, tomatoes may help protect against breast cancer and heart disease. Better still, they are adaptable to any number of forms from sauces to salads and they are relatively easy to grow.
A real superfood, blueberries are packed with antioxidants and may help with memory loss and reduce eye strain, among many other benefits. Better yet, as they ripen in your garden you can easily add a handful or a few — depending upon your yield — to a bowl of cereal or to a smoothie.
Rich in potassium and calcium, figs grow quickly in the garden and you don't need another variety for pollination (make sure you are buying a self-pollinating cultivar). Fig trees can also be easily grown in containers, making them ideal for gardens with limited space.
Be aware that figs are a high-sugar fruit, so if weight loss is a goal, too many of these can derail your plans.
A member of the Brassica family of vegetables (which includes Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli), cabbage is packed with health benefits from a combination of vitamins C, B and K and has been found to perhaps have cholesterol-lowering and cancer-prevention benefits too. It is a roughage. and therefore great for aiding in digestion. Fermented into sauerkraut, cabbage is a powerful source of probiotics.
Beyond the usual coleslaw and corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, cabbage can be cooked or incorporated into salads. Filling and full of nutrients with very few calories, some have added cabbage to their healthy weight loss diet.
Easy to grow even indoors, microgreens pack a whole lot of nutrition in a tiny package. Microgreens are tender seedling versions of pseudograins like amaranth and buckwheat, herbs and vegetables including broccoli, peas, beets, radishes, cabbages and kale. Nutrient-dense microgreens contain a host of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins C and E and also tend to be richer in nutrients than the fully grown vegetable.
Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.) is the poster child for iron-loving plants. The genus as a whole enjoys a soil pH that ranges between 5.0 and 5.5, and they're often grouped together with blueberries to provide shade for the blueberry's roots. The shrubs come in a variety of sizes and colors, from bright blue flowers to hot pink, and from a miniature 2-foot stature to a looming 10 feet. A best-of-both-worlds example, "Yaku Princess" (Rhododendron x "Yaku Princess"), matures at 5 feet and displays flowers that take on shades of both white and pink. It blooms in spring and is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 9.
Slightly less demanding of iron than rhododendrons, camellias (Camellia spp.) also enjoy iron-rich, acidic soil with a pH level that ranges between 5.0 and 6.5. The plants display large flower heads that appear a solid pink or white. In some varieties, the pinks and whites melt together. Some varieties, such as "Bonanza" (Camellia sasanqua "Bonanza") bloom late in the growing season, while others, such as "Nuccio's Bella Rossa" (Camellia japonica "Nuccio's Bella Rossa") bloom at the beginning of the growing season."Bonanza" is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 7 to 10, while "Nuccio's Bella Rossa" is hardy in zones 8 to 10.