How to prevent an iron deficiency with foods
Numerous myths and half-truths revolve around the trace element iron. So, let me help you to understand how to prevent an iron deficiency is possible with the right nutrition.
Which foods actually provide a lot of iron, and do you actually have to eat meat to get enough iron?
It has an important function in cell division, ensures smooth oxygen transport in the body, forms the red blood cells and also ensures an intact immune system. The trace element iron is a real jack of all trades in nutrients.
Women, in particular, get too little iron
A recent consumer study, in which the daily dietary behavior was examined, brought to light that 14 percent of men and 58 percent of women did not reach the recommended daily intake of iron. In women of childbearing age, the figure is even over 75 percent.
The official daily need for iron depends on both age and gender. While a 10-year-old child needs 10 mg of iron daily, the requirement in girls increases to 15 mg in adolescence.
Boys get by with 12 mg of iron a day. Pre-menopausal women continue to need 15 mg of iron daily. In men, the need for iron past puberty goes back to 10 mg of iron.
Pregnant and nursing women have the greatest need. You are recommended to take 30 or 20 mg of iron a day. It’s getting clear now that these are values that only a few achieve through normal nutrition.
But there are a few ways to improve your body’s iron supply
Almost all foods contain the trace element iron. However, the amount varies greatly from variety to variety. Wholesome foods such as whole grains, legumes, seeds and herbs provide a lot of iron. The table below gives you an overview of ferrous foods that help prevent an iron deficiency.
Food iron content in mg per 100 g
Wheat bran 16 mg
Flax seeds 12.5 mg
Pumpkin seeds 12 mg
Amaranth 9 mg
Basil 7.3 mg
Millet 7 mg
Chanterelles 6.5 mg
White beans 6 mg
Chickpeas 6 mg
Pine nuts 5.2 mg
Whole grain oatmeal 5 mg
Thyme 5 mg
Peas 5 mg
Whole wheat flour 4.7 mg
Almonds 4 mg
Parsley 3.6 mg
Game meat 3 mg
Beef fillet 2.3 mg
Pork, salmon, tuna 1 mg
Egg (1 piece) 1 mg
There are two different iron compounds that our bodies can use: 2-valent iron and 3-valent. We also refer to the divalent iron (2-valent) as heme iron and we can only find it in animal foods. The trivalent non-heme iron comes from plant-based foods.
The body absorbs heme iron from animal products about 2-3 times better than non-heme iron, which is why meat and fish are good iron suppliers despite the relatively low iron content.
There are, however, several ways to significantly increase the intake of vegetable iron. Vegetarians and vegans in particular benefit from this – but not only that!
How to improve the absorption of iron from food
The right combination of foods can significantly increase iron absorption. For example, vitamin C has been shown to improve absorption. It converts the trivalent non-heme iron into divalent heme iron.
You should, therefore, combine foods containing vitamin C with every iron-rich meal. A fresh spinach salad with peppers or a glass of orange juice makes a great example. You can also find foods rich in vitamin C in the following post:
Fruit or lactic acids also improve iron absorption. They help to release non-heme iron from its natural compounds and, thus, make it available to the body.
Fermented foods are particularly suitable for this. Lactic acid fermentation makes them slightly acidic while sparing vitamins like vitamin C.
This inhibits iron absorption
In addition to the “promoters”, there are also a number of substances that tend to hinder iron absorption.
These include calcium and magnesium, which our body absorbs through the same intestinal channels as iron.
You should, therefore. not consume dairy products with iron-rich meals. As a matter of fact, our body knows well that these minerals don’t go well together.
As a signal, it can occur that you will feel nauseous when consuming dairy products with foods that are very rich in iron.
Also, one fair warning, as this has happened to me when I had to take iron supplements after pregnancy: Do not attempt to take your iron immediately after you’ve had yogurt for dessert.
It made me sick and throw up violently. I guess this just goes to show that calcium and iron really aren’t the best of friends.
Oxalic acid, a phytochemical, also inhibits the absorption of iron in large quantities. Oxalic acid comes in relevant amounts, e.g. in rhubarb, chard, cocoa, black tea and spinach.
Since oxalic acid is water-soluble, you can remove it by briefly blanching (and pouring the cooking water away).
Phytic acid is a substance that mainly occurs in cereals. It binds iron to itself, making it harder for the body to use. However, you can reduce phytic acid using various methods. You can start soaking or germinating the grain and taking a long time to prepare the dough.
Recipe tip for an iron-rich meal: Bean and chanterelle pan with pumpkin seeds
3 red peppers
400 g green beans
300 g chanterelles (fresh or frozen)
50 g shallots
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley
One slice of whole-grain toast
30 g pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp pumpkin seed oil
30 milliliter of vegetable oil
75 ml organic vegetable stock, if possible in a glass
1- Quarter the peppers, clean and grill them with the skin side up in the oven for approximately 8-10 minutes at the highest setting and grill function. After removing, cover with a damp cloth for about 10 minutes to loosen the skin. Then peel the peppers and cut lengthwise into broad strips.
2- Clean the beans and let them boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes. Then cool them off under cold running water briefly and drain.
3- Clean the chanterelles and dice the shallots.
4. Roughly chop the parsley leaves. Cut the whole-grain toast into small pieces and finely chop with half the parsley, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil in a vegetable slicer.
5. Fry the chanterelles vigorously with a little oil in a pan over high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add beans, pepper strips and shallots and season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Deglaze with the vegetable stock and let it boil down. Add the crumbs, stir and roast lightly; season if necessary. Pour the rest of the parsley over it and serve.
How did you like the article, and, if you have tried it, our recipe? As you can see, you do not necessarily need to eat meat to prevent iron deficiency.
Just make sure that you always combine your iron-rich meals with lots of vitamin C, and your iron level will bounce back to normal soon.
Of course, if you suffer from severe iron deficiency symptoms, your first step should be going to your doctor.
A small blood sample suffices to show how much hemoglobin, which is the red protein responsible for blood transportation of vertebrates, you actually miss. Accordingly, he will then prescribe you conventional iron medicine.
If you don’t have actual symptoms, but feel you are not getting enough iron in your diet, you can always purchase your own good iron supplements.
Just ensure that you always stick to the recommended dosage and keep it away from children and pets, as an iron overdose can be fatal.