Many of us have been iron deficient at some point in our lives, especially if we’ve cut back on red meat or meat in general. Low levels of iron can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, cold hands and feet, and pale skin (I know, you’re reading this like: that’s me.) If you’re like me and eat red meat once a week at most, you may be struggling to get the amount of iron you need in your diet. The solution seems simple: spinach and other dark leafy greens have a ton of iron… so you’re good, right? Wrong. Remember what you learned in The China Study? Just like you can’t pump your body with supplements and vitamins to combat deficiencies, you can’t just eat foods high in a vitamin or mineral and expect it to work miracles. Sorry, you have to be more strategic than that. But, lucky for you, I’m here to help all of us regain our energy. Face it: it’s almost bikini season and you need to get your ass to the gym. You know it. I know it. “No energy” you’re whining. Well, shut up and stop messing around. Start absorbing your iron without stuffing your face with red meat. I got you.
Here we go. First off, there are 2 types of iron: heme and nonheme. Let’s break them down:
Heme Iron: the most readily absorbed form of iron; found in shellfish, red meat, poultry, and fish.
Nonheme iron: less easily absorbed by the body; found in plant foods.
The issue is, sources of nonheme iron (like spinach) often contain phytates, which bind to iron and carry it through the digestive tract unabsorbed. So, if we want to get the iron we need from non-meats, we need iron absorption enhancers. The best enhancer to pair with your nonheme sources of iron is vitamin C (it can increase absorption by as much as 20 times). Oddly enough, you can also use cast iron cookware to increase the amount of iron you absorb.
Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C, like:
Citrus fruits (and their juices), such as grapefruits, lemons, and oranges
Green and red bell peppers
For a list of iron-rich foods that don’t come from meats, visit this site by the Vegetarian Resource Group.