There’s iron in your skillets and your traditional woks. There is iron in great many food sources. The question is – “Is it the same iron that your body needs?” The answer is, yes.
Iron is absolutely essential. It is a vital mineral that helps carry life-giving oxygen to every cell in our body. It is iron that connects you from your very core to the land you’re living on. It is amazing how large a role iron plays in our everyday living and many bodily functions!
What would be even more amazing is if more people understood the role of iron. Iron deficiency is rampant across the world’s populace. And people suffer from symptoms such as lack of energy, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, irritability, fogginess, dizziness and anaemia.
Vegans and vegetarians are particularly affected since the diet is restrictive (I’ll explain more here in this article.) Eating a balanced, healthy, varied mix of foods that includes – pulses, legumes, grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits, helps. But if you are a vegetarian or vegan keep a close lookout.
Take it from me- we really need to pay more attention to iron in our diet. I am writing this article from a vegan and vegetarian perspective, including plant-based sources of iron. Iron is greatly misunderstood as a nutrient and I hope to dispel some myths.
How much iron do we need?
The recommended daily intake (RDI) for iron is 18mg per day. However, individual requirements may vary significantly based on a number of factors like – the person’s gender, life stage and special circumstances. It is advisable to get an accurate recommendation from a chosen and trusted healthcare professional, such as your Health Coach.
For example, men and women generally require about 8mg of iron per day. This amount increases further to around 18mg per day for menstruating women, and to 27mg per day for pregnant women. The RDI for vegetarians and vegans is 1.8 times higher than that for meat eaters.
Iron from plants for vegetarians and vegans
There are two types of iron — (1) heme, which is found in non-vegetarian and animal-based foods, and (2) non-heme, which is from plant-based sources. It is true that heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron.
Painful as it is for vegetarians and vegans to hear, it is not all that difficult to get the iron you need on a purely plant-based diet. Here are some fantastic sources to consider:
- Legumes: lentils, tofu, natto, tempeh, lima beans and peas
- Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, sesame, hemp, flaxseeds, cashew, pine and pistachio
- Vegetables: leafy greens, potatoes, collard greens, mushrooms and spinach
- Fruits: tomato puree, prune juice and mulberries
- Grains: quinoa, amaranth, oatmeal and unhulled sesame
- Other: blackstrap molasses, coconut milk and cacao
5 ways you can absorb more iron
The iron in plant-based foods is not as easily absorbed as the iron in animal products. The trick is in knowing how to eat, nearly as much as understanding what to eat.
- Avoid coffee and tea with meals. Drinking these beverages can reduce iron absorption by 50-90%. Consider this tip as you eat iron-rich foods to heighten the impact.
- Eat smaller amounts throughout the day and spread your meals. When you consume iron-rich foods it is good to pace your meals, this way the body actually works on absorbing the iron more evenly and effectively.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin c together with your iron-rich meals. Traditionally these combinations are already available – beans and salsa, hummus with a touch of lemon and quinoa and fresh orange juice. Eating foods like this together increases the absorption rate of iron significantly.
- Soak, sprout and ferment foods. These techniques are great for reducing the amount of phytates naturally occurring in foods, thereby increasing the chances of iron absorption when they are eaten.
- Use a cast-iron skillet or wok to cook your food in. Cooking foods this way increases the amount of iron in it.
- And finally, if you feel that your busy life doesn’t permit you or that you are unable to meet the required levels of iron in your food just by following these tips, consider dietary supplements. But please talk to a Health Coach in order to map out your exact dosage.
I will be happy to consult with you and make suggestions based on your lifestyle. Don’t take your health for granted. Start now and take charge.