I have to be honest and admit that this post is one I’ve been putting off writing. Chatting about getting adequate protein? How I would love to! Fiber? Don’t even get me started.
But then there’s iron. Oh that pesky little iron.
I’m slooowly coming to realize that just because I struggle with my iron consumption doesn’t mean I’m allowed to hate the nutrient itself. So today I’m putting on my big girl pants and giving iron a chance.
In addition to giving Tony Stark his superpowers, iron is a key component of hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen. When we’re not getting and/or absorbing enough iron, hemoglobin production is a no-go, which limits the oxygen travelling throughout our bodies. Cue the fatigue, dizziness and weakness that is characteristic of iron-deficiency anemia (source). Not fun.
The tricky thing about iron is that it’s not just about getting x number of milligrams everyday. How well or poorly we absorb iron is tremendously influenced by the type of iron that we’re eating as well as the foods we’re eating it with.
In short, the iron found in animal sources like meat, fish and poultry (heme-iron) is much better absorbed than that found in plant-based foods like leafy greens, legumes and grains (non-heme iron) (source). This is the reason that vegetarians require 1.8 times the iron that meat-eaters do (source).
As for absorption, there are compounds called phytates and polyphenols (especially prominent in tea and coffee) that inhibit our iron absorption. Sadly, calcium does too. On the other hand, vitamin C enhances it (source). WOO FOR A SIDEKICK!
It probably goes without saying but calcium is a super important nutrient in its own right; trying to reduce/eliminate it for the sake of our iron absorption is not the goal here! I just keep those factors in mind and occasionally time my food a little bit differently to try to optimize the iron I am getting.
cooked quinoa // soy milk // prunes // bananas // cinnamon // Sunbutter
Quinoa, prunes and Sunbutter all have iron in some capacity. I had never had quinoa as a sweet porridge before and it was so delicious! I just stirred in a bit of soy milk, microwaved it for one minute and added everything else.
Veggies + hummus // tuna and avocado // whole wheat pita // apple
This meal provided iron in the form of tuna, pita and hummus and vitamin C from the fruit and veggies. I love mashing avocado into my tuna instead of mayo. Squeezing a bit of lemon into the mix prevents it from browning too quickly when you’re packing it to go!
Plain yogurt + maple syrup + vanilla + blueberries // frozen peas
I tried to isolate this high-calcium snack a bit as opposed to having it with one of my meals. As a result, the iron in the peas probably suffered a bit. But as I said, we can’t let calcium fall to the wayside!
After work I did my go-to circuit workout and it felt great. Not sure what’s going on with that face. I’m probably thinking, “why do I have a mullet right now?”
Chickpea masala (Oh She Glows Cookbook) with spinach // Jasmine Rice
This meal was ready in no time and a really good one. The iron from the chickpeas and cooked spinach was enhanced by the tomato in this dish.
Lastly, Josh and I had a great time out with some friends and I made sure to go with an iron-rich beer option. Ha… I wish!
As with anything, I think this is a topic that we should try to be conscious of without getting obsessive. I advocate getting your blood tested to see what your levels are like; it would be a shame to not be functioning or feeling your best because of something so amendable. But don’t give yourself a headache trying to make sure that you finish every single day at 100% of your recommendation. With just a little bit of effort, everything balances out in the end.
Do you struggle with your iron intake? What are your favourite iron-rich foods?