Iron deficiency? We have the tips for you!
Women in particular often suffer from an iron deficiency. The most common causes of this are heavy periods and too little iron in your diet. Unless you start looking for (alternative) contraceptive methods that reduce or completely eliminate your monthly bleeding, you have little control over the first cause. The second is about getting plenty of iron-rich foods, such as whole grains, spinach, kale, and broccoli. However, there is one more thing that deserves attention. Did you know that the other foods you consume can affect the absorption of iron in your body?
First things first: the difference between iron from animal and non-animal products
For starters, you should know that there are two types of iron: heme iron, which is only found in animal products, and non-heme iron, which comes from plant foods. Your body absorbs about 25 percent of all the heme iron you ingest. Non-heme iron is slightly less easily absorbed by the body; that percentage is between 1 and 10. That is quite a big difference! And also the reason that if you eat no or very few animal products, you can get an iron deficiency very quickly.
Which factors can promote iron absorption?
If you do not or hardly eat animal products, you are dependent on iron from non-animal products. Then it is important to ensure that your body can absorb as much of it as possible. As we mentioned earlier, the absorption percentage is between 1 and 10. The exact percentage of non-heme iron you absorb depends on the other things you eat. For example, it is known that vitamin C promotes the absorption of non-heme iron in the body. So if you follow a (largely) plant-based diet, it is smart to ensure that you eat something from vegetables or fruit with every meal, so that your body is able to absorb more iron.
Which factors inhibit iron absorption?
Just as we know that vitamin C promotes the absorption of iron in the body, we also know that there are nutrients that actually slow down the absorption. These include the tannins in red wine and grapes, but also the polyphenols in coffee and tea. The bottom line is that if you need to get all or most of your iron from plant-based foods, you need to pay close attention to how you mix your food and drinks.
Let’s say you start the day with an iron-rich breakfast such as a tofu scramble or whole wheat toast with peanut butter. Then you better drink a glass of fresh orange juice (vitamin C!) and save that cup of coffee or tea for later.
Do you have a pasta dish with iron-rich whole wheat pasta on the menu for the evening? Then it is better not to drink a glass of red wine with this. Make a green smoothie instead. You can still drink that wine, no worries! Just save it for later.
A plant-based diet is very healthy, but it does require a little more attention. You must not only ensure that you get enough vitamins and minerals, but also that you make the right combinations, among other things to optimize the absorption of iron by your body. It is a bit of a switch in the beginning and pay attention, but it is really well worth it!