Welcome to 2019, where people are finally getting serious about eating more produce (hello, planetary health diet!). Shifting to a plant-based diet has many potential benefits, including reduced diabetes risk, better heart health, and a smaller carbon footprint. And don’t worry about getting enough protein: It’s actually not that hard to do as a vegetarian or vegan, as long as you’re getting protein from a variety of plant foods.
However, there is one big thing plant-based eaters do need to be vigilant about: iron. Specifically, getting enough of it in their day-to-day diet.
“Iron is necessary for many cellular functions, but most notably, iron is key for helping myoglobin and hemoglobin deliver oxygen to body tissues,” says Katherine Pett, M.S., R.D., nutritionist for Conagra Brands and blogger at Nutrition Wonk. (Your cells and tissues need oxygen to convert food into useable energy, so it’s safe to say that iron is essential to every part of the body.) “While our bodies efficiently recycle most of our iron stores, some is naturally lost every day from sloughing of skin and the lining of our intestines, sweating, and menstruation,” says Pett.