How to maximize the iron in your meals

Iron deficiency occurs when our bodies do not absorb enough iron, or we don’t consume enough iron . This is more common in women and can lead to fatigue and weakness, among other symptoms.

You can ask your doctor to perform a blood test if you are concerned that you might be iron-deficient.

There are two types of iron that we consume: haem and non-haem. Haem, an iron-containing amino acid, is a component of hemoglobin. This protein transports oxygen throughout your body.

Haem Iron is easily absorbed by the body when it is consumed in animal food sources, such as meat.

Plant foods like grains, legumes, and nuts contain non-haem ferrous oxide, which is more difficult to absorb.

Read more: I’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency, now what?

Some enhancers

You can increase your non-haem Iron absorption by drinking a vitamin C-rich drink, such as tomato, orange, or grapefruit juice.

One study found that 100mg of Vitamin C increased the iron absorption by four times. This is about the same as what you would get from a glass of orange.

It is important to keep this in mind for those who do not eat meat, as their iron intake will be entirely non-haem.

Some inhibitors

The tea is popular with Asian food. Tea contains a bioactive substance called tannin, which is an inhibitor for non-haem absorption of iron.

Tannin can be classified as a polyphenol, an organic compound. Tannin is also found in cocoa, almonds, and pomegranates. It can be added to drinks such as smoothies.

Kombucha is a popular fermented drink that still contains tannins.

Sadly, the news for coffee drinkers is not any better — coffee also contains tannins. The chlorogenic acids found in coffee are also important inhibitors of iron absorption.

Tea and coffee are tannin-rich, which prevents iron absorption. Shutterstock

Iron is inhibited by tea and coffee. A cup of tea can reduce iron absorption between 75% and 80%. And a cup of coffee, about 60%. The stronger they are, the more powerful the effect.

It’s best to stay away from tea and coffee during meals and two hours prior to and after. This is the time that food and beverages sit in your stomach until they are fully absorbed.

Breakfast is a common meal where people drink tea or coffee. Breakfast is usually cereal or bread for most people. These products contain significant iron naturally, and in some cases iron is added.

If you are iron deficient, it is time to opt for a small orange juice or even the whole orange at breakfast (as it contains fiber) and save the coffee or tea for later.

Read more: What is kombucha and how do the health claims stack up?

A little from column A, a little from column B

Although there has been speculation that dairy products may inhibit iron absorption in the past, evidence to date suggests it does not.

Plant-based milks such as soymilk contain phytates. This is a compound that stores phosphorus within plants and inhibits iron absorption.

Beer enhances iron absorption. Beer increases iron absorption, but it’s not recommended to have it every meal. Shutterstock

increases iron absorption. A beer is, therefore, classified as an enhancer.

You should choose a white wine over a red if you prefer a glass. Red wine is richer in tannins and polyphenols.

It would help if you didn’t drink alcohol to increase iron absorption because it increases your risk of cancer.

So what’s the take-home message?

All of the bioactives that I have mentioned provide a variety of health and nutritional benefits. They are all found in plants. You can’t avoid tannins and consume the recommended number of fruits and vegetables.

This advice is most relevant to those who have been diagnosed with iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia. Even if you are iron deficient, these drinks can be enjoyed outside of meals.

You don’t need to worry if your iron levels fall within normal range. Your body will absorb enough iron to meet your requirements with the food and drink you consume.

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