Do you know which nutrient deficiency almost one-in-three people share?
That’s right – iron deficiency affects 30% of people. It is the most common blood condition in infants and children.
It’s also the cause of a wide range of symptoms that can really undermine your day. If you’re experiencing any of these, take a good look at your diet, because there’s a good chance that a lack of iron is the cause:
- Racing heart
- Ringing in your ears
- Shortness of breath doing basic tasks
- Restless legs
As for what can cause you to have an iron deficiency, part of the reason that it is so common is that the causes are so widespread. A poor or restrictive diet is common, of course, but it can also be caused by anything from heavy menstrual bleeding, pregnancy or conditions like gut inflammation that reduce absorption.
You do not have to get iron from animal products
One of the most common nutritional myths is that the only solution to iron deficiency is a steak. It is, of course, true that animal food sources can be loaded with iron, but what many people are not aware of is that there is an alternative – non-haem iron.
In fact, most plant foods are rich in non-haem iron, especially dark leafy greens (like silverbeet, spinach, bok choy), lentils, pulses, parsley, dried apricots, kale, peas, and strawberries. These are foods that we should eat every day and are important sources for maintaining a healthy iron status.
What trips a lot of people up is that non-haem iron isn’t absorbed into the body quite as easily. To prevent these nutrients passing through without sharing their benefits, there are several tricks that you can do to boost your body’s absorption.
Boosting your body’s absorption of non-haem iron in four easy steps
- Pair the non-haem iron source with a Vitamin C source. A drizzle of lemon juice over the salad or vegetables, or adding fresh fruit to the meal can help to convert the iron to an active form.
- Spice things up! Some of your favourite spices, including turmeric, cumin and thyme, have compounds in them that can enhance the absorption of non-haem iron.
- Boost the acidity of the meal: Lemon juice comes in handy here too, but a dash of vinegar can have the same result. This can help the absorption of non-haem iron.
- Consider cooking with cast-iron cookware. One of the benefits of cast-iron cookware is that some of the iron will leech into the food. This isn’t non-haem iron, but can combine with the non-haem iron for a potent effect.
And a couple of don’t’s…
- Don’t drink coffee at the same time. We’d certainly never suggest that you don’t drink coffee! However, if you limit yourself to a cup an hour before a meal, you’ll avoid the inhibiting effect that coffee has on non-haem absorption. Tea, also, has a milder inhibition effect, so avoid that immediately before meals too.
- Avoid high-fibre foods and dairy when eating non-haem iron-rich foods. Whole grains and dairy are both filled with their own nutrients, but both fibre and calcium block non-haem iron absorption.
- If you’re experiencing heartburn, note that antacids decrease iron absorption, so consider whether your heartburn medication may be affecting your iron status.
By following these simple tips and tricks, you’ll be able to significantly improve your iron intake without needing to resort to animal products or supplements.