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Tasty & Healthy Nuggets, Issue #002. Are you getting enough iron from the food you eat?
June 13, 2013

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Are you getting enough iron from the food you eat?

We need iron to be able to manufacture blood. A deficiency in iron causes anaemia. Anaemia is much more common these days than it was further back in human history.

Popeye the Sailor may have eaten his spinach - which is packed with iron – but it is actually very difficult for our bodies to absorb the iron in spinach, as well as in many other types of food that contain iron.

Iron can be either heme iron – found in red meat, poultry, fish and shellfish – or non-heme iron – mostly found in grains, legumes and plant foods but also in milk and eggs.

Heme iron is more easily absorbed by our bodies than non-heme iron is.

Certain substances inhibit iron absorption – making it even harder for us to get enough iron from our food. Tea, coffee, cocoa, peppermint, chamomile, egg protein and phytic acid – found in grains, legumes and most plant foods – are all iron absorption inhibitors.

It gets worse. Some minerals – calcium, zinc, magnesium and copper - compete with iron for absorption.

Riding to the rescue is vitamin C. If you eat iron-rich food in combination with food that is rich in Vitamin C – such as sweet red peppers (bell peppers), broccoli, peas, berries, citrus fruit, peaches and papayas – it will help your body absorb the iron in whatever food you are eating.

But it is still a good idea to not drink coffee, tea, peppermint or chamomile tea or milk with or directly after an iron-rich meal – and even more so if you do not eat either meat or fish (heme iron).

Men who eat meat and fish are rarely affected by anaemia. Those most at risk are children and women – especially women before the menopause.

Vegetarians and vegans need to be extra careful about getting enough iron. Many legumes and plant foods, although less readily absorbed by our bodies, can be good sources of iron if eaten together with food which is rich in vitamin C.

(My two sources for this material are: “Dr Ali’s Nutrition Bible” by Dr Mosaraf Ali, and “http://www.parentingscience.com/iron-absorption” by Gwen Dewar.)


I’ll sometimes have a mixture of things - like some tomato salsa, falafels or some cooked chicken, hummus, red pepper (bell pepper), lettuce and avocado - for lunch.

At times I swap a typical hummus made with chickpeas for a kind of hummus that I make with edamame beans - immature green soya beans (soybeans) - and green peas.

SOYBEAN HUMMUS

100g, 3½oz cooked edamame beans - immature green soya beans (soybeans)

25g, 1oz, cooked green peas (I add frozen peas to boiling water and as soon as the water comes back to boiling, I drain the peas in a sieve.) 1 garlic clove, crushed

2-3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, crumbled feta cheese

3 tablespoons rapeseed (canola) or olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients for the hummus in a food processor and whizz together.

Soy beans (soybeans) are considered to be a source of complete protein and can replace animal-based food. The proteins in soya have very little of the saturated fat known to clog your arteries and raise your risk of heart attack.

Soya is also rich in iron but it is non-heme iron. As soya beans also contain phytic acid - which is an iron inhibitor - it is really important to eat the beans together with vitamin C if you are eating a meal without fish or meat.

In this green hummus the peas contain a fair amount of vitamin C but try adding even more vitamin C by eating it together with raw red pepper (bell pepper). Try it on some toasted sourdough bread. It’s delicious!

Until next time – Happy Cooking!

Margareta Wiklund



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