Iron deficiency is extremely common among many Americans – in fact, it has been reported that approximately 10 million people do not consume enough iron, and half of these people suffer from anemia. We’ve all heard of the importance of consuming iron-rich foods, but understanding how this mineral works is essential to keeping our bodies healthy and functioning efficiently.
Best Functional Medicine Physician and New York Times bestselling author Marc Hyman, MD is well known for its straightforward approach to nutrition and general health education. Dr. Hyman goes far beyond giving advice on healthy eating. Instead, he explains why it’s so important to think of certain foods as medicine and how these foods can help support our organs, immune system, muscles, cognitive functioning and overall health in the present and future. as we age.
Iron is a mineral that benefits the body in multiple ways. In fact, iron acts as a “carrier” to help move oxygen from our lungs to our tissues. “The oxygen we pump into our lungs comes from hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein inside our red blood cells,” says Dr. Hyman. “Hemoglobin and iron ‘carpool’, pick up oxygen and deposit it at its destination-tissue-before picking up carbon dioxide on its way back to the lungs to be exhaled.” Another interesting fact Dr. Hyman shares is that our bodies can recycle and reuse iron from old blood cells, so it can be stored in case our levels ever drop too much.
Iron deficiency is also common in menstruating women, as large amounts of iron are depleted during menstruation. “[People who identify as] women of childbearing age need significantly more iron than [people who identify as] men,” Dr. Hyman recently said. shared on Instagram. “Pregnant women also need more iron to support the increased blood volume and nutrient needs of a growing baby.”
Another important caveat: iron is traditionally found in animal products, such as meat and seafood, making it potentially difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get enough of it. A small 2017 study comparing 30 vegetarian women to 30 non-vegetarian women found that 60% of plant-based dieters were mildly anemiccompared to 46% of non-vegetarian women who were normal or mildly anemic.
So what’s the key to maintaining iron levels, especially if you’re on a mostly plant-based diet? Dr. Hyman suggests eating non-heme iron-rich foods as often as possible. “Haem iron comes from animal products such as meat and seafood,” Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, previously said Well+Good. It is found in the blood proteins and hemoglobin of these animals, in the same places as in humans. Non-heme iron comes from plant-based foods, such as beans, fortified cereals, nuts, and vegetables,” she says. Some of the top sources of non-heme iron include chickpeas, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, lentils, and black beans. .
In addition to adding more of the foods above to your meals, here are three easy ways to increase iron absorption, according to Dr. Hyman.
Dr. Hyman’s tips for increasing your absorption of iron from food
1. Eat iron-rich plant foods with vitamin C
According to Dr. Hyman, eating foods containing vitamin C will help the body absorb non-heme iron better — and chances are you already have plenty of vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables in your fridge. Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, spinach, potatoes and winter squash are great options to enjoy with grains and legumes for a meal rich in iron and vitamin C. For inspiration for a delicious recipe, whip up a lentil stew with roasted tomatoes or whip up a side dish with bulgur, chopped broccoli and a squeeze of lemon.
You can also try making these delicious vegan lentil and nut tacos, which are packed with plant-based protein, iron, and vitamin C:
2. Try fruits with non-heme iron
Dr. Hyman says fructose, which makes fruit naturally sweet, helps increase iron absorption. “Adding pomegranate or blood orange seeds to your spinach salad will increase non-heme iron absorption, and it will taste great, too!” he says.
These gluten-free blueberry muffins are another delicious way to add an extra helping of fruit to your day:
3. Limit the association of foods rich in iron with foods containing calcium
Calcium-rich foods may inhibit iron absorption, Dr. Hyman says. You certainly shouldn’t avoid calcium altogether, but if you’re looking to boost your iron intake, try to avoid pairing calcium-rich foods with non-heme iron-rich foods. “That could mean not adding cheese to your eggs or adding goat cheese to your salad,” says Dr. Hyman.
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