Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Increase Iron Absorption

Since I don't eat meat and rarely eat fish, sometimes I wonder if I'm getting enough iron. I like to think I'm a healthy eater, but there certainly are days that I stray, and those days add up. Anemia develops very slowly, and it's hard to know if you're even mildly anemic. Even if you think you eat enough iron-rich food, the amount that your body absorbs might be another story.

Recently, I decided to track everything I ate on Sparkpeople for a few days to see if I was getting enough of all my nutrients. I kept track for three days, and made a special effort to eat really healthy. I was pretty surprised to see I was deficient in a few key things, including iron. So I jumped online to see what other iron-rich foods I could eat, and I accidentally found out a lot more about iron absorption.

Luckily, there are a few things we can do to really boost the body's absorption of iron.

  • Eat Vitamin C with Meals: Vitamin C is iron's best friend! Try to get Vitamin C with every meal, as it has been found to significantly increase iron absorption. Since so many Vitamin C-rich foods are delicious, this shouldn't be too hard. An easy way to do this is to cook with lemon juice, or simply squeeze it over your meal. Sounds awesome for a stir fry! I just posted about the benefits of lemon water, and it's also great to drink with meals to get a ton of Vitamin C. 
    • What to eat? For fruit lovers, eat a citrus fruit with your meal. There are also a lot of vegetables high in Vitamin C:
      • Bell peppers
      • Broccoli
      • Tomatoes
      • Potatoes
      • Cabbage
      • Cauliflower 
  •  Save the Tea for Later: As an avid tea-drinker, I was a little heartbroken to find out that it's terrible for iron absorption. The tannins in tea bond with iron molecules, making them undigestible. Studies have shown that drinking tea with a meal decreases iron absorption by 30-60%. That's a lot! Try to drink tea an hour before/after you eat, but if you absolutely must have tea (like me sometimes, I admit), squeeze some lemon in it for Vitamin C to counteract some of the tea's iron-inhibiting properties.
  •  Watch out for Calcium: Calcium and iron compete for absorption when taken together, and calcium can decrease iron absorption by up to 50%. If you take supplements, take the calcium and iron supplements at least two hours apart. If you're planning an iron-rich meal, avoid dairy products with it if possible. Damn it, I guess that I means I should leave the cheese off my bean burgers. The best tip (which I'm now repeating for the third time, sorry!) is to make sure to get Vitamin C with meals. 
  • Eat More Iron: This sounds obvious, but sometimes I need a reminder of which foods are iron-rich. Here's a quick run-down of vegetarian sources:
      • Dark, leafy greens - spinach, kale, bok choy, collards
      • Dried fruit - raisins, prunes, dates
      • Artichokes
      • Beans 
      • Blackstrap molasses (great as a replacement for honey in oatmeal)
      • Dark chocolate/cocoa powder
 Thanks for reading! Good luck and happy eating!


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