I often hear people say they are feeling tired, so they must be low in iron. There are many reasons why we feel tired, and iron deficiency is just one of them.
If we are low in iron, we feel tired and depleted. Supplementation can be beneficial but it is recommended to work with your medical practitioner – GP or Naturopath, to ensure you are receiving the appropriate levels and type of iron (serum iron, ferritin and transferrin), because too much iron can be toxic in the body.
Red meat may be your preferred choice, but it is not always easily absorbed or digested. Animal protein is one of the slowest foods to be digested, so can cause other disruptions in the gut. Each of us is unique so we respond and process things differently. If you do choose to eat animal protein, small quantities is recommended.
To maintain a healthy lifestyle, variety is essential. The Mediterranean diet is still considered to be one of the best guidelines. It focuses on eating an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables followed by grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Plant based foods contain an abundance of nutrients, including iron. Consuming these foods, and others, ensures you are receiving not only iron but a whole lot of other essential nutrients.
Some foods reduce the amount of iron that is easily absorbed by the body, such as tea and coffee, so it is best to wait 30 minutes before or after your meal before enjoying your cup of cha. On the other hand, vitamin C is known to increase iron absorption. Another reason to increase your fresh fruit and veg!
The average recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron is 8mg per day for men and women, 18mg for menstruating women and 27 mg for pregnant women.
These are just some plant based foods with great sources of iron:
- Leafy greens including spinach, kale, swiss chard and collards have between 2.5 – 6mg of iron per cooked cup. Leafy greens have a much higher iron content than red meat and other animal proteins.
- Broccoli is a powerhouse vegetable. Not only a massive antioxidant and vitamin pill, it contains around 1.6mg of iron per one cooked cup.
- Almonds – two tablespoons contains about 1.6mg of iron. This also applies to cashews, macadamias and pine nuts. Depending on the size of the nut, this is probably about half of the daily serving size.
- Pistachios have almost 5mg of iron per cup. Note a daily serve is about 49 kernels, this is still a good source.
- Beans and lentils. One cup of soybeans contains 8.8mg of iron. Fermented soy products contain around 3gms. Other beans like white, kidney, navy, and chickpeas have between 4-6mg per cup of cooked bean. Lentils provide 6.6mg per cup cooked. Lentils are also a good source of protein and fibre.
- Seeds. Two tablespoons of pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flax have around 2-4mg of iron making them a good source of iron.
- Parsley has 3.7mg of iron per cup of chopped leaf.
- Dried fruit – 1 cup of dried apricots have 3.5mg of iron. Raisins have 1.3mg for just half a cup. One date contains 0.2mg of iron. Research has shown that eating one or two dates every day, particularly females, can increase haemoglobin and ferritin levels.
- Avocados are another wonder fruit with many benefits to improve and or maintain health. One cup of chopped avocado will provide just under 1mg of iron.
There are many other foods not listed on this chart that are great sources of iron, including mushrooms, prune juice, whole grains and coconut milk.
To increase the bio-availability or absorption level of iron, be sure to eat lots of vitamin C rich foods. Soak, sprout and ferment beans and legumes. Consume Lysine rich foods such as legumes and quinoa. Avoid drinking tea and coffee with meals as this counteracts the absorption of iron.
You can see that by consuming a variety of foods, you can easily reach your RDI for iron levels as well as many other vitamins and minerals.
Choose wisely. Live vibrantly.
Sharon Lisa Herzog