Are you eating enough iron-rich foods? Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the United States affecting almost 10 million people. Too low iron levels can cause iron-deficiency anemia. It can take a toll on your energy levels, skin and hair texture, heart health, cognitive functions, and overall immunity.
Let’s discuss how you can increase your iron levels. Is meat enough to up your iron? What food should vegans and vegetarians eat? Is your tea and coffee interfering with your iron absorption? We’re discussing all that and more.
But First What Exactly Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?
Iron is the most abundant element on Earth. Your red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin. Iron is the building block of hemoglobin. If you have iron deficiency your body will have a tough time producing hemoglobin. In turn, this will reduce the number of red blood cells in your body.
Wondering why blood cells are important? Well, they are the carriers of oxygen. When the cells and tissues don’t get enough oxygen they are unable to function optimally and your body will slowly start shutting down.
Anemia is a condition when your body does not have healthy red blood cells. It could have a couple of different reasons apart from iron deficiency like blood loss, genetics, and deficiency of Vitamins like B12 and folate. To sum up, anemia via iron deficiency is called iron deficiency anemia.
Dietary iron is present in two forms. Heme and nonheme. Heme sources are present in nonvegetarian foods. Almost 40% of it is readily absorbed by the body. Whereas nonheme is derived from plants, grains, and veggies. Non Heme iron is absorbed much less efficiently by your body. Most vegetarians can get an iron deficiency if they are not meticulous about eating iron-rich foods. But despite having a poor absorption rate a major chunk of iron in our diet comes from nonheme forms. The recommended daily allowance of iron is 10 mg for men and 12 mg for women. This requirement increases during pregnancy and if you are into athletics. Want to know what you should be doing to reduce your risk of this iron deficiency?
Start By Adding More Vitamin C To Your Diet.
Did you automatically think about limes and lemons? But there are so many other options. It is a lesser-known fact that bell peppers, guava, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale also have tons of Vitamin C. Vitamin C brings a plethora of benefits to your body. It fights aging, is a potent antioxidant, and helps to reduce inflammation.
One thing it does to iron is increases its absorption. Studies have shown that having just a hundred grams of Vitamin C in one meal can increase your iron absorption by almost 67%. It especially binds the nonheme iron that is difficult to absorb.
The simplest way to get more Vitamin C daily is to squeeze a lemon or some lime juice over your salads. You can even kick start your day with a glass of warm lemon water or a grapefruit. Make sure you’re eating enough melons, berries, and other tangy fruits when you snack.
Let’s face it, the one thing that we could use more of in our daily diet is probably leafy greens. There are just too many healthy ways of eating spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, lettuce, arugula, watercress, dandelion…. the list goes on. You can either have them raw or cooked in your salads, smoothies, sandwiches, and wraps. These dark green veggies should make your plate at least once a day. Eating them becomes all the more important when you’re pregnant. They will not only help you to get rid of iron deficiency anemia but also other types of anemia due to their high vitamin content.
Moving Along, Eat Foods Rich In Vitamin A.
Vitamin A-rich foods give you the actual bang for your buck. If you want to squeeze out all the iron from your regular food then make it a point to add them to your diet. Studies have shown vitamin A to increase the absorption of iron up to 200% for rice 80% for wheat and 140% for corn.
Vitamin A is fat-soluble and essential for cell growth, skin turnover, skeletal development, and boosting the immune system, vision, and central nervous system. It also plays a vital role with other vitamins. It is usually consumed in two forms, retinol and Pro-Vitamin A, carotenoids. Retinol is the active form found in animal sources like liver or fish oils whereas beta-carotene is commonly found in plants. Beta carotene is converted into retinol and then into vitamin A.
You can find beta carotene in sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, watermelons, and other fruits and vegetables that are typically reddish-orange. Carrot and pumpkin soup anyone?
Make sure you’re eating enough peaches, oranges, apricots, red bell peppers, and squash as well. Apart from the orange-colored foods, Vitamin A is also present in spinach, kale, and other green leafy vegetables. If you suffer from low thyroid levels you might require extra beta-carotene as the conversion rate of beta carotene to retinol is very low with hypothyroidism.
Next Up, Eat Meat.
Are you a big fan of hot dogs and steaks? This is another reason to indulge in your favorite foods. Your body can absorb more iron, especially the heme part from animal sources. But that’s not it. The heme iron helps to absorb the non-heme iron also. Studies have shown chicken, fish, beef, and fortified cereal to enhance the absorption of nonheme iron by almost two to three times. You can also add eggs to your diet to get rid of anemia.
Animal-based foods are an excellent source of protein and can help you build muscle and stay lean. But that’s true only if you consume them in moderation. Research has shown that eating 75 grams of meat is enough to up the non heme iron absorption. Pay special attention to the way you cook meat. Deep frying can make these proteins delicious but can drain away all the nutrients. Additionally, the extra saturated fats can invite obesity and heart problems. You can either boil or grill them to get the maximum benefits.
Give The Cast Iron Skillet A Try.
It just takes a few minutes to make mindful swaps while cooking. Give your nonstick cookware a break and try using a cast-iron skillet. It may be something your grandparent used but is actually backed by science.
You can literally make anything in it – from scrambled eggs, meat to toast. I know using the toaster can be really convenient but the iron skillet can make a big difference. Acidic foods like tomato sauce can be cooked in it. Even green vegetables with high moisture should be cooked in it. Want to know why? Because cooking with cast iron can increase the iron content in the food by almost 16%. Additionally, your food will taste great.
Non-stick and Aluminum cookware can leach out harmful chemicals while cooking. Cast iron skillet is chemical-free and has a longer lifespan. The use of these amazing iron pots and pans is not limited to your stovetop. They can be tossed in your oven for baking purposes as well.
Be Cautious While Eating Calcium-rich Foods.
Do you usually have a glass of milk and then eat iron-rich foods? If yes the calcium from the milk can prevent the complete absorption of iron. It’s not just milk, other calcium sources like cheese and yogurt can also meddle with iron absorption. A study found having 165 mg of calcium reduces the iron uptake from supplements by 50 to 60%. If you are iron as well as calcium deficient then space your foods and supplements as far as possible. They should be taken at different times to avoid opposite effects on your body.
Having Tea And Coffee With Food Is Risky.
Polyphenols are a group of chemical compounds present in tea and coffee that interfere with iron absorption. Many times when tea and coffee are consumed with meals, it stops the absorption of iron from food due to the high amount of polyphenols present in them.
These beverages also have tannins that have the same effect on iron absorption as polyphenols. A study showed drinking one cup of black tea along with your meal could reduce iron absorption by almost 60 to 70%. Polyphenols are also present in wine. Just remember to drink your beverages wisely; mostly a few hours before or after having iron-rich foods.
Ever Heard Of Phytic Acids?
These are unique natural compounds found in plants, seeds, grains, nuts, and legumes. They have quite a negative effect on mineral absorption. They not only prevent the absorption of iron but also jeopardize the absorption of zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Phytic foods can multiply your mineral deficiencies and that is why they are referred to as an anti-nutrient. A study showed eating almost 2 mg of it reduced iron absorption by 18% in wheat rolls.
Last But Not Least A Word Of Caution.
When you are facing iron deficiency your approach should be food first. Natural nutrients can beat synthetic nutrients. Get your blood levels checked regularly and know where your hemoglobin is at. It is also important to check your ferritin levels to know how much iron reserve your body holds. If your doctor suggests it – only then switch to iron supplements. Do not self-medicate because it’s very easy to overdose on iron supplements which could be lethal.
While too little iron levels can be dangerous, too much of it is equally dangerous. Iron is stored in your liver and when it blows out of proportion it can cause diabetes, heart disease, and liver damage. If you face nausea, constipation or a stomach upset then try out a few different forms of iron through tablets. In extreme iron deficiency cases, your doctor may even advise injections to help you recover quickly from the situation.
Just like iron, your body requires a couple of other minerals daily. Let’s take zinc. A few foods loaded with zinc should be especially consumed to reduce zinc deficiency.