07 October, 2007

Where do you get your... iron?

I get this question a lot, especially from women, since iron-deficiency anaemia is very common amongst menstruating women, due to blood loss from heavy periods.

There are two types of iron, haem iron, from animal sources, and non-haem iron, from plant sources. While haem iron is more bioavailable so less is needed than with non-haem iron, that's not to say vegans are any more likely to become anaemic- rates are the same between vegans and non-vegans. However, vegans should try to eat more iron to make up for the lower bioavailability than the RDA for omni's.(Guidelines for RDA's differ from country to country but I reckon for vegans, about 23mg-ish +, is about average for a menstruating female, 30mg+ if pregnant and about 15mg for everyone else.)

Try to eat something iron rich at every meal. Iron rich foods include quinoa (it's very high in iron and good for replacing rice, porridge and other grains), amaranth, fortified cereals, tofu, legumes(ie beans, lentils), nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and molasses(licorice and gingerbread, chilli or black bean sauces are good ways of using molasses in cooking).

Also, swop from white processed rice/bread/pasta to the brown wholegrain stuff(as well as more iron, it also has more zinc, fibre, and a lower glycaemic index, plus it fills you up more) and don't peel your potatoes as there's iron in the skin.

To increase absorbtion of iron, have something vitamin C rich with every meal(you should be eating 5-9 portions fruit or veg a day anyway!) since this helps absorbtion. You could also try cooking with cast iron- as the name suggests, it, um, casts iron when you cook with it and gives your food more iron! Avoid taking things which interfere with absorbtion at mealtimes, wait at least an hour. These include tannins(found in coffee, tea and fizzy drinks) high strength calcium supplements and smoking.
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