Fatigue, trouble focusing, and shortness of breath are a few signs you may have an iron deficiency. Supplements are a great way to get back on track. However, there are many natural ways to increase iron intake as well! Keep reading to learn more.
Why Iron is Important for Body Function
Oxygen is a large component of proper cell function and energy production. When our cells are deprived of oxygen, we start to feel tired, lack concentration, and experience headaches among other symptoms.
Red blood cells help deliver oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. They do this with the help of hemoglobin, a protein that’s made with iron.
Without iron, your body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, resulting in less oxygen being transported. As such, you begin to feel the effects associated with iron deficiency.
Other signs of iron deficiency include:
- Pale skin
- Cold hands and feet
- Heavy menstruation
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Brittle nails
Natural Ways to Increase Iron Intake
Aside from iron supplements, you can use natural ways to increase iron intake as well.
Diet plays a big part in iron intake and absorption, which is why it’s necessary to eat the right foods.
Before we dive into our list, it’s important to note that there are two types of iron: heme and non-heme.
Heme iron is derived from animal foods. In these foods, iron is attached to proteins called heme proteins. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, is derived from plants. Unlike heme iron, non-heme iron isn’t attached to heme proteins.
Heme iron is absorbed at a higher rate than its non-heme counterpart. Typically, heme iron is absorbed at a rate of 7-35%, while non-heme is absorbed at 2-20%.
Here are a few foods that are rich in heme and non-heme iron that will help you get back on track:
Red and white meat
If you’re wondering how to increase iron levels quickly, eat liver. Chicken liver contains about 12.9mg of iron per 100 grams!
If you don’t enjoy liver, red meat is generally a great source of heme iron. White meat like chicken, turkey, and pork are also other natural ways to increase iron intake efficiently and quickly.
Oysters, clams, and cockles aren’t just delicious, they’re high in iron as well. Around 100 grams of clams can contain around 28mg of iron. That far exceeds the daily recommended dose!
If you’re allergic to shellfish or simply don’t like the taste, try other sources of iron such as salmon, tuna, and seaweed.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Consuming dark green leafy vegetables is another way to naturally increase iron intake. Spinach, arugula, and kale are great sources of non-heme iron. However, they can also work as iron absorption inhibitors due to their high content of oxalic acid.
Having said this, cooking or mashing your greens helps to break down the acid.
Cooking alone won’t completely reduce the oxalic acid. Add calcium carbonate while cooking your greens as well. This helps in better iron absorption by combining with the oxalic acid and reducing it further.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli
Broccoli isn’t only a good source of iron, it’s also a great source of vitamin C! Its vitamin C content is significant because it helps your body better absorb the iron.
Beans and legumes
Lima beans, black beans, pinto beans, soybeans, peas, and lentils come packed with iron. Around 100 grams of soybeans can contain around 15.7mg of iron. That’s 87% of your daily recommended amount!
Beans and legumes contain phytates which actually classify them as iron absorption inhibitors. However, they are also great sources of non-heme iron.
To better absorb the iron from these foods, soak or ferment them first. These processes help by reducing the level of phytic acid and neutralizing enzyme inhibitors. In this way, beans and legumes become easier to digest as well, allowing you to better reap the benefits!
These processes don’t have to be tedious. If you’re new to it, here’s more on soaking grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great sources of iron.
Much like beans and legumes, they can also be iron inhibitors due to their phytic acid content. However, the soaking method previously mentioned can also help to reduce the phytates present in nuts and seeds.
Cook food in cast iron
Studies conclude that cast iron is another great way to increase your iron intake. This is because food absorbs the iron molecules present in the pot or pan, especially if it’s cooked longer.
One study by Kröger-Ohlsen and colleagues also concluded that “the use of iron pots is a cheap and sustainable way of providing a population with a sufficient iron supply.”
With this in mind, don’t let your cast iron pots and pans sit on the back burner!
How to Increase Iron Absorption from Your Food
Before chowing down on iron rich foods, remember, certain foods in your diet may hinder its absorption.
If you’re wondering how to increase iron absorption, keep these pointers in mind:
Don’t forget Vitamin C
Vitamin C is known to help improve the absorption of non-heme iron. It must be consumed at the same time. This is because, when they’re digested together, vitamin C combines with non-heme iron to create a compound that’s easier to absorb.
Aim to have at least 500mg of vitamin C when consuming non-heme iron rich foods. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are just a few that contain Vitamin C.
Avoid beverages with tannins
Beverages that contain polyphenols such as coffee, black tea, green tea, or red wine can inhibit non-heme iron absorption.
This is because iron binds to tannic acid during digestion. This forms an insoluble compound, thereby preventing absorption.
As such, avoid drinking these beverages with or too close to meals (or if you’re taking supplements).
Keep calcium at bay
Calcium may inhibit the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron. This is because it can interfere with the breakdown of phytic acid found in some foods.
With this in mind, avoid consuming iron-rich foods with dairy products or other foods rich in calcium. If you’re taking calcium and iron supplements, it’s best to take them at separate times.
Remember, sometimes seeming symptoms of an ailment can be something else entirely. That’s why it’s important to consult your doctor if you suspect your iron levels are low.
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