Nutrient of the Week #3
Nutrient of the Week #3: Iron! It is vital for hemoglobin production in our red blood cells💉, which act to carry oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissue, then carry CO2 back from the tissues to the lungs to be removed. If all that isn’t important enough, it also functions in enzymes for energy production and metabolism 🧬 It is one of the most common deficient nutrients, especially among infants under the age of 2, teen girls, women of childbearing age, pregnant women and the elderly. The reason deficiency is so prevalent is due to an increased need, inadequate intake, reduced absorption/utilization and blood loss.
Recommended iron requirements vary by age and sex:
-Males ages 18 and up is 8mg/day
-Women need 18mg/day when 19-50 years of age, and 8mg/day after that!
If you are vegetarian your needs are 1.8 times higher due to poor bioavailability.
Are you getting enough? Here are some meat and plant sources of iron, it may be more difficult than you think to “meat” these needs!
There are two from of iron that we eat: “Heme Iron” and “Non-Heme Iron”.
Heme Iron is the form that is well absorbed and is found in animal meats, thus why meat is the best source of iron 🥩🍗 Non Heme Iron is found in animal products such as eggs and dairy, as well from plant-based foods such as vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes 🧀🥚🥜🌱🍞 This is also the form the is often fortified in foods and supplements. Our bodies cannot digest and absorb non-heme iron very well, so this is why vegetarians need 1.8 times more iron!
Another way to think about Heme vs Non-Heme is by categories of foods:
✔️Animal meat is a combination of heme and non-heme (meat contains about 40% heme and 60% non-heme)
✔️Dairy and eggs are non-heme.
✔️Plant foods are non-heme only.
Since iron is tough for us to get enough of, let’s focus on how to maximize the absorption of the iron you are eating! 🙋🏻♀️ Follow these 6 simple tricks to make sure your iron is getting its best chance at being absorbed!
Foods that help you absorb more iron:
✔️Vitamin C has been shown to enhance iron absorption. It captures non-heme iron and stores it in a form that's more easily absorbed by your body. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, bell peppers, melons and strawberries.
In vegetarian and vegan diets, iron absorption may be optimized by including vitamin C-containing vegetables during meals, an example of this is to squeeze a lemon over your spinach!
✔️Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene (a pigment that is found in plants that can be turned to vitamin A in your body) can also increase iron absorption in your body. Good sources of these include any vegetable or fruit with a red/orange colour (carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, red/orange/yellow bell peppers, cantaloupe, apricots, oranges and peaches) as well as spinach and kale.
✔️Meat, fish and poultry not only provide well-absorbed heme iron, they can also stimulate absorption of the non-heme form.
Foods that may reduce iron absorption:
✖️Phytate (or phytic acid) is found naturally in foods such as whole grain, cereals, soy, nuts and legumes. It inhibits iron absorption by binding to it, but luckily adding vitamin C to these phytate-containing foods can counteract this!
✖️Although calcium is essential for our health, it can also reduce irons absorption. This may be minor, so not taking calcium supplements with iron rich meals and not relying on dairy products as your main source of iron can avoid this issue!
✖️Coffee, tea and wine naturally contain polyphenols, which inhibits the absorption of non-heme iron. To avoid this issue be sure to leave a few hours between your iron-rich meal and your tea, coffee and/or wine!
Keep an eye out for signs of iron deficiency, especially if you fall within the at risk groups mentioned in the first post! If you experience fatigue, weakness or dizziness talk to your family doctor about getting lab work in order to check your status. As we age our ability to absorb and utilize iron decreases, as we naturally reduce the amount of hydrochloric acid in our stomach and this is needed to absorb the iron we eat.
Try the recipe below for a boost of heme iron in your diet with a twist on a classic comfort meal!
Quinoa Meatloaf: Preheat oven to 350OF and grease a loaf tin with oil. In a small saucepan or in a rice cooker, cook ¼ cup quinoa as per package instructions. In a large bowl combine cooked quinoa, 1lb ground meat of choice (beef, chicken, turkey), 2 large eggs, 1 medium finely chopped onion, 3 chopped garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, and 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce. Combine well and add mixture to greased loaf tin. Press firmly into tin and bake for 1 hour. This will make about 4 servings.