Are you absorbing your iron? Without enough iron, you will feel, well... pretty terrible. Tiredness, fatigue, low mood, low endurance, pale skin, sore mouth, dizzy... the list goes on...
You could be eating platefuls of iron rich food, but not actually absorbing much of it. Sound familiar? Read on...
Dietary sources of Iron can be categorised as Haem iron and Non- Haem iron.
Good sources of Haem iron are: Red meat, organ meat, poultry, fish and shellfish
Non - Haem iron foods are plant based - broccoli, pumpkin, beetroot, nuts and seeds, dark green veggies, eggs, whole grains, legumes, dry fruits, tomato, guava, paw paw and citrus.
When haem iron is consumed (the meaty one), its absorption is much better than non-haem iron. Non-haem iron is less easily absorbed and its absorption is often affected by the other food components which are eaten alongside it.
Non- haem iron (plant based) provides the largest amount of dietary iron, but only an estimated 10 - 20% of non-haem iron is actually absorbed, because it is inhibited in its absorption by so much.
Phytates, oxylates and polyphenols all prevent non-haem iron from being absorbed. Many “healthy” foods such as spinach, kale, beets, wheat bran, rhubarb, strawberries and nuts contain a high amount of oxylates.
Polyphenols are found in apples, peppermint, herbal teas, spices, walnuts, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries along with cocoa. Polyphenol rich food can reduce your iron absorption by an estimated 60%.
Phytates are found in walnuts, soy, almonds, sesame, beans, lentils, peas, cereals, protein and fiber. Phytates can reduce the absorption of iron by an estimated 50 - 60%.
Along with this, milk is also known to inhibit absorption of iron .
It has also been found that drinking polyphenol rich beverages within an hour of a meal will reduce the iron absorption of that meal by 79 - 94%. This includes tea, coffee, red wine, cocoa and herbal tea.
This has an obvious impact on the average vegetarian/ vegan diet. Whilst the raw constituents of a vegetarian or vegan diet looks to contain a huge amount of iron, the effect of the inhibitory components listed above has massive implications on iron absorption.
So what to do? You`re trying to be be healthy, but the healthy foods you are eating are inhibiting your iron absorption! That`s annoying!
Mmmm... Don`t despair...
There are certain promoters of iron absorption. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) helps chelate the iron molecule, transporting it across the intestinal lining. Squeezing lemon over food, or drinking freshly squeezed orange with a meal can help your iron absorption.
You definitely want to avoid those dastardly polyphenol drinks and limit beverages with food to water, or freshly squeezed orange.
Have some iron rich snacks away from other foods each day. Cooked meats if you are a meat lover, or dried fruits are a good source for veggies. cook some beetroot up and leave it in the fridge to snack on. You can literally smell the iron in beetroot, it`s such a good source.
I would advise every vegan or vegetarian to take a mulitvitamin WITH minerals every day. Look carefully at the nutrient information. Multi vitamins are often just that ... vitamins. You want the minerals alongside them.
I don`t advocate iron supplements unless you are under the guidance of a professional GP or nutritionist. Unless you have had your iron tested, taking iron supplements on their own can be a dangerous thing to do.
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