Within the last month I have had blood work done by two different doctors both of which pointed out that my iron levels are very low. This has been an issue that has come up previously, but it seems like this time it is worse than it has been. One of the main symptoms of low iron in the body is fatigue. I have a very hard time waking up in the morning even after very long periods of sleep, and also generally feel tired throughout the day. It’s pretty terrible actually because I end up feeling sluggish and lazy. Another symptom is always being cold…hello! So me.
My rheumatologist prescribed FeraMAX which is an oral iron supplement that claims to have reduced and/or eliminated (depends where you get your info) the not so pleasant side effects of most iron supplements like constipation. This is a product that can actually be bough over-the-counter.
Previously I have taken the natural route and taken Salus Floradix Formula which is a liquid supplement taken daily, and is the choice for most vegetarians/vegans I know. I can’t say that I have noticed major differences after taking this one, but I have a feeling that I did not take it for long enough or was regimented enough to take it everyday.
When I started doing the research to figure out which of these would be the better option this time around, I also looked into where I could find natural sources of iron in food and I found something quite surprising. According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, despite popular opinion, vegetarians do not have any more incidence of low iron stores than the general population. Additionally many of the foods that are considered to be the staples of plant-based diets are superior in the amount of iron they hold when the iron in these foods is expressed as milligrams of iron per 100 calories.
|Table 2: Comparison of Iron Sources|
|Food||Iron (mg/100 calories)|
|Collard greens, cooked||4.5|
|Sirloin steak, choice, broiled||0.9|
|Hamburger, lean, broiled||0.8|
|Chicken, breast roasted, no skin||0.6|
|Pork chop, pan fried||0.4|
It should be noted that the type of iron found in food derived from animals is easier absorbed by the body than that found in plants. However, most plant-based diets are high in Vitamin C, which helps with the absorption of iron in the body. Read more here and here. For a list of iron rich vegetarian foods click here.
So now I know that I can get enough iron from foods, but my follow up question is, am I able to get my depleted iron stores back up just through food alone? I am thinking that giving my body a boost through a supplement, at least initially, would not be a terrible idea.
Does cooking your food in cast iron pots and skillets help increase your iron intake? Sounds like an old wives tale but this one is true!
An American Dietetic Association study found that cast iron cookware can leach significant amounts of dietary iron into food. The amounts of iron absorbed varied greatly depending on the food, its acidity, its water content, how long it was cooked, and how old the cookware was. The iron in spaghetti sauce increased 2,109 percent (from .35 mg/100g to 7.38 mg/100g), while other foods increased less dramatically, for example the iron in cornbread increased 78 percent, from 0.67 to 0.86 mg/100g. Anemics, and those with iron deficiencies, may benefit from this effect.