26 Apr 2016 2 Comments
If you’re a vegetarian, the answer might be yes, putting you at risk for anemia, a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. Symptoms include feeling tired and weak, rapid heartbeat, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, pale skin, leg cramps. Generally speaking, women are more at risk for anemia than men, but take heart. If you’re lacking a proper amount of iron in your diet, the “absorption factor” might be to blame.
Did you know that eating plant sources for iron are more difficult for the body to absorb than meat? They’re considered nonheme iron and not well-absorbed during the digestion process. One way to increase absorption is by consuming excellent sources of iron — like spinach — with foods rich in vitamin C — like strawberries. Eat these two together and you help your body to increase its absorption of iron up to sixfold. Peppers, cooked tomatoes, papaya, kiwi and citrus fruits are also high in vitamin C.
However, while vitamin C helps the body absorb nonheme iron, eating beans, grains and rice will inhibit the absorption. Which makes me sad, because I normally love the addition of chickpeas to my salad (also high in iron), but not if chickpeas work against my nutrition goals. These sources contain a substance called phytic acid which binds to the iron and prevents absorption. Caffeine and calcium-rich foods can also inhibit the absorption of iron. And to think they want us to eat our fortified cereal (great source of nonheme iron) with milk. Hmph.
Another thing to consider when organizing your meal plan is that heme iron increases the absorption of nonheme iron. Add chicken, beef or salmon to that spinach salad and you’re golden.
Other great sources of iron include oysters, clams, chicken liver, beets (and their greens), soybeans, potatoes, black-eyed peas, artichokes and pumpkin seeds. The list continues, but start here and you’ll be on your way to a healthy level of hemoglobin. And don’t forget to power-boost your absorption with the above tips!