I've got a colleague (a possible convert!) to whom I've been extolling the wonders of a vegetarian diet, but she has an iron deficiency and her doctor's got her convinced that a vegetarian diet just won't do. I wondered what your thoughts might be. - B. R.
Vegetarian diets don't normally result in iron deficiency. Probably her doctor is thinking that heme iron mostly from red meat is more available & more absorbable than nonheme iron, mostly from plant food. And he'd be right about that. But perhaps uninformed about vegetarian diets.
A nutritious vegetarian diet contains more than enough iron, but the amount you absorb depends on the other food you eat. Eating iron rich foods with foods high in Vitamin C increases the rate of absorption. Eating a lot of dairy products, and a lot of food high in oxalates & phytates decreases iron absorption, as does tannin, from black tea and to a lesser extent, coffee.
Suggested Reading: The New Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis for detailed information about iron, and other extremely useful info about vegetarian nutrition. Well worth reading whether or not she becomes vegetarian.
Your colleague's iron deficiency could be related to other dietary factors, and the above mentioned book may be helpful. Also this excellent article: Iron and Vegetarian Diet
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian