Prevent Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Iron Deficiency
Prevent Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Iron Deficiency. Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world. It affects a large number of children and women in developing countries and it is the only nutrient deficiency, which is also significantly prevalent in industrialized countries. Over 30% of the world population is anemic. (1)
In the United States, children, women with heavy menstrual periods, vegetarians, and vegans are at higher risk of iron deficiency. (2)
Iron is an important mineral for the body
Iron contributes to the production of the red blood cells needed to transport oxygen throughout the body. The body uses iron to make hemoglobin, which is a part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen through your body. Symptoms of iron deficiency may include headaches, dizziness, weight loss, energy loss, irritability, weakened immunity, and shortness of breath. (3)
Iron deficiency is the result of blood loss – the body’s inability to store or use iron efficiently. The possible culprit is a diet lacking iron-rich foods. When iron stores diminish, the body loses red blood cells. Iron deficiency can also be due to poor absorption in the body from the foods eaten. (4)
There are two sources of iron
The two sources of iron are heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is a hemoglobin derivative that can be found in any animal product foods. Non-heme iron is a chemical unit that exists in foods obtained from plant life, but does not get absorbed in the body as easily as heme iron, but can be improved by combining it with vitamin C. (5)
The major difference between the two types of iron is that heme iron is absorbed up to 3 times better than its plant-based counterpart, which makes it harder for vegans and vegetarians to meet their daily needs. The absorption rate for a heme iron is about 7-35% and for non-heme iron is about 2-20%. (6)
Are you vegan or vegetarian? No problem. Here are some simple tricks for non-meat eaters to ensure enough iron is absorbed.
Non-meat eaters tend to get insufficient amounts of iron due to the over-consumption of processed foods, so the best bet is to eat whole foods. Here are some tricks to avoid iron deficiency or anemia:
- Add vitamin C to meals – this is the easiest way and can be as simple as adding lemon juice to your water or choose vitamin C and iron rich food sources such as leafy greens, tomatoes, parsley, sweet peppers, beets, seaweeds, and peas.
- Ease up on the coffee or tea – they block the absorption of iron, so try not to drink it one hour before and after meals.
- Avoid foods that are rich in calcium – absorption rate is hindered, so avoid dairy products, fish, tofu, etc. at least one hour before consuming iron rich foods to maximize the absorption rate. (7)
Here are the top 12 sources of non-animal iron rich foods: spirulina, cooked soybeans, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, blackstrap molasses, tomato paste, white beans, cooked spinach, dried peaches, prune juice, and lentils. (8)
Food in bold are appropriate for the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle. The tips above can become increasingly important the longer you eat vegetarian or vegan.Also, foods high in phytic acid, such as nuts and seeds, can impair iron absorption and create iron deficiency anemia. We experienced this with our son, Gabe. Keeping iron stores adequate in the body is important. We do incorporate organic chicken livers (be sure to eat only organic) into our lifestyle now that blood sugar stabilization is in place. Liver is loaded with heme iron.
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