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How To Absorb Iron Better on a Plant-Based Diet

How To Absorb Iron Better on a Plant-Based Diet

Nearly 10% of women ages of 20 and 49 are iron-deficient, which can cause fatigue and impair physical and mental endurance

Iron is needed to deliver oxygen to cells, and too little has also been shown to decrease immunity. Dr. Gregor, one of my favourite doctors that I’ve come across on www.nutritionfacts.org, states that “people who eat a plant-based diet eat the right types of iron- the non-heme iron. So the iron in blood and muscles, the heme-iron [from animal products] is absorbed in the body whether we need it or not… it acts as a pro-oxidant, and too much can increase our risk of liver disease, diabetes and heart disease…Not having enough of it though, we can’t make enough blood cells and we become anemic, and so our intestine when we don't have enough iron absorbs more iron and if we have too much iron, it absorbs less- but that’s only with non-heme iron”.

Adult women need 18-45 milligrams of iron daily, while men need 8-45 milligrams daily. Vegetarians and obviously those with monthly menstruation should be at the 45 milligram end of that range. So while you might be consuming a lot of iron rich foods, it doesn’t hurt to count your milligrams every once in a while and consider things which may inhibit your iron absorption:

  • Caffeine, insufficient vitamin C, Calcium intake, and eating large amounts of food in one sitting have all been shown to impact iron absorption. Caffeine and tea have compounds called polythenols which bind to iron, making it harder to absorb. Calcium also hinders the absorption of iron, so take high-calcium foods 30 minutes before/after eating iron rich foods.
  • Cooking in a cast iron pan will help you better absorb iron. The acid in foods seems to pull some of the iron out of the cast-iron pots. Simmering acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, in an iron pot can increase the iron content of the brew more than ten-fold. Cooking foods containing other acids, such as vinegar, red wine, lemon or lime juice, in an iron pot can also increase the iron content of the final mixture.

Vegan iron sources:

Legumes:

  • Soy Beans (1 cup=8.8mg)
  • Lentils (1 cup, cooked= 6.6mg)
  • Tofu (4oz=6.4mg)
  • Chickpeas (1 cup, cooked= 4.7mg)
  • Tempeh (1 cup= 4.5mg)
  • Lima Beans (1 cup, cooked= 4.0mg)
  • White Beans (1/2 cup, cooked= 3.9mg) 

Nuts and Seeds:

  • Cashews (1/4 cup= 21mg)
  • Pine Nuts (1/4 cup= 1.8mg)
  • Pistachios (1/4 cup= 1.4mg)
  • Chia Seeds (1 oz=2.2mg)
  • Sesame Seeds (2 tbsp=1.0mg)
  • Pumpkin Seeds (1 oz= 4.2mg)

Veggies and Fruits:

  • Collard Greens (1 cup= 4.5mg)
  • Swiss Chard (1 cup=4.0mg)
  • Potato (1 large= 3.2mg)
  • Tomato Paste (4 oz= 3.9mg)
  • Watermelon (1.8mg=1/8 medium sized)
  • Dried Apricots (15 halves= 1.4mg)
  • Spinach (1 cup, cooked= 3.2mg)

Grains:

  • Quinoa (1 cup, cooked=2.8mg)
  • Oatmeal (1 cup=2.1mg)

Other iron sources:

  • Blackstrap Molasses (2 tbsp= 7.2mg)
  • Prune Juice (8 oz= 3.0mg)

Spirulina

Spirulina is a natural food source that has 58 times the iron of raw spinach and 28 times that of raw beef liver. It contains more beta-carotene than any other whole food, and is very high in chlorophyll, which is an alkaline and is known to reduce anxiety. It is 65% proteins and amino acids!

Enjoy powder forms in smoothies or matcha lattes. When I’m not having overnight oats for breakfast, I’m having a banana smoothie including 1 teaspoon of chlorella and a sea vegetables supplement for a kick of B12, omega 3 fatty acids, iron, protein, and manganese, and zinc.

Turmeric

Turmeric speeds things up in the body- aiding in digestion, boosting our metabolism, and increasing sweat production- and promotes detoxification by binding to the heavy metals and toxins in our body and removing them. It is full of manganese, iron- fresh or dry. mince it and include it in your smoothies, salad dressings, soups, curries, teas etc. My favourite is to have warm coconut milk with minced fresh turmeric, ginger, lemon juice and cinnamon before bed, or even carry it around with you in a thermos.

Maca Powder

Maca boasts high levels of calcium, phosphorus, vitamins B1, B2, and B12, C, a full amino acid profile and iron, which all help with energy levels and may even act to stabilize your mood and make you feel good.

Chia Seeds

One of the highest plant based sources of proteins, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and electrolytes (calcium, magnesium, and potassium). If you want to get the benefits, mix them with coconut oil and consume together during workouts.

Vitamin C Sources

One of the great points about a plant-based diet is that it is high in vitamin C. Not only can Vitamin C help with iron absorption (especially in plant based sources), it reduces the stress hormone called “cortisol” and is essential for a healthy renal system, which helps prevent fatigue from physical or emotional stress. For an adult male, the recommended range is from 90-2000 milligrams per day and for adult women the range is from 75-2000 milligrams. If you smoke, increase that by 35 milligrams. You can find vitamin C in mainly fruits and vegetables- especially bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, guavas, papayas, lychees and kiwi.

Calcium Sources

We all know that calcium is most important for our bones and teeth. According to the Canadian Dieticians of Canada 2016, adults need 1000-2500 milligrams per day. The highest, most alkaline vegan sources of calcium are fortified dairy-free milks (soy, coconut, almond, rice, cashew etc.) collard greens, fortified orange juice, spinach, turnip greens, kale, tofu (with calcium sulphate), white or navy beans, tahini, almonds, and blackstrap molasses.

Vegan B12 Sources

Vitamin B12 is produced by soil microbes that live in symbiotic relationships with plant foods. It is important for the replication of DNA, formation of red blood cells, and maintenance of the central nervous system. Many people think that B12 can be obtained only from animal sources, but this is not true. In fact, animal products high in B12 also heighten the risk of cancer and heart disease, so why not try vegan? Plant sources of B12 are alkaline, meaning they are less acidic and will not rob our body’s calcium to neutralize the acidity found in the animal products. The B12 in animal products actually comes from the soil the animal ate! Livestock no longer feed on grass and dirt on factory farms because pesticides kill the B12 producing bacteria, which might be one of the reasons that 15% of Americans suffer from a B12 deficiency, regardless of their diet. Adults need to have 2.5 micrograms per day. In a plant based diet, B12 can be easily maintained when you consume fortified nutritional yeast and fortified non-dairy milks. The best sources of B12 come from different types of algae including chlorella, spirulina, and sea vegetable supplements because they are filled with iron, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and have a complete amino acid profile. These are among the best things you can consume every day to detox the body, increase energy levels, lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels, reduce blood pressure and control blood sugar. They may be effective against anemia, and they are some of the highest sources of antioxidants, making them anti-cancer superfoods.

Photo: storebukkebruse/Flickr)

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