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cooking away iron deficiency

 
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I need more iron.

But the fatigue is too much to spend hours mucking through the internet looking for natural solutions.  

Can you help me brainstorm some ideas for improving iron in my diet?



things I do already
- liver and onions a couple of times a month
- cook in a cast iron pan
- swiss chard

 
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My son looked this up for his girlfriend and found that shell fish, lentils and pumpkin seeds are known as good iron sources. Iron from plant sources needs Vit C to be absorbed, and it's better to do so on an empty stomach. (ie try having some pumpkin seeds and a plum as a quick and easy afternoon snack)
 
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What helped me the most was using a nutritional calculator to see how much iron I was already getting in a day. It is NOT easy to get enough iron from diet if one is a menstruating woman. Pretty sure Fitday.com is entirely free--at least it was when I signed up.

Eating heart was my biggest help for getting enough iron. It's tasty (once you get past the thought that you're literally eating something's heart, which was a HUGE hurdle for me, but my anemia really required it), and if you know someone who sells/raises beef, you can often get a whole heart for really cheap. Heart is a whole lot tastier than liver--though lamb and pork and chicken liver are a lot better than beef liver--and it doesn't have the crazy high amounts of animal vitamin A that liver does (one can overdose on vitamin A when it's in the form found in meat).

I would, honestly, eat some heart nearly every day, if not every day, until your iron levels are up. It also has a lot of B12, which should help with energy levels. 6 ounces has 43% of the iron you need in a day.

  • 6 ounces of lamb liver = 70% of what you need (If you're eating liver once a month, you're getting maybe your daily needs for iron met once a month!) You also get 837% of the vitamin A you need, so you really shouldn't do this more than once or twice a week.
  • 6 ounces of lamb heart = 43% of what you need in a day. Tastes a bit like sausage/bologna, so it's easier to
  • 6 ounces of clams (either fresh/frozen or in oil, not water) = 149% of the iron you need in a day. The canned clams in water have a LOT less iron. I don't know why.


  • Can you stomach clams? (I HATE clams.) If so, I would probably eat clams one day, heart another, then more clams or heart the next day, then liver, and repeat until your iron levels are up. If you're really anemic, I'd do this for at least a month if you can, especially if you're more than mildly anemic.

    I personally supplement with iron chelate, which is gentler on the stomach and more absorbable. BUT, you have Crohn's and iron supplements--even the gentle ones--are hard on the stomach. You don't need that. You also probably want to avoid having to get iron infusions at the hospital...which is what had to happen to my husband because his got so low due to his crohn's that it was taking iron from his marrow. Don't get that depleted if you can help it!

    Getting enough iron from diet alone is HARD. Doing it while being largely vegetarian and already deficient and with iron absorption problems due to Crohn's, is probably really, really, really difficult. The iron from plants--and from cast iron--is not nearly as easy to absorb as that from meat.

    Adding in more iron-rich veggies can help, though, and I'd do that, too. Make sure to eat the iron-rich veggies with something with vitamin C. So if you do a nettle tea, eat a strawberry with it. Put orange slices or tomatoes on your spinach and beet salad.  Remember that cooking removes most of the vitamin C from foods, so eat the things with vitamin C uncooked (make a smoothie if too much ruffage is hard on your guts). The neat thing about the heme(meat) sources of iron, is that they are already in a very absorbable form, and you don't have to worry about vitamin C to help absorb them--they don't require help.
     
    pollinator
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    Add an iron object to your cooking. There is a propitiatory "lucky fish" that you can buy to add to your liquid meals, it releases half the daily iron needs with each use, but a large nail would probably do the same!
     
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    Ive heard cooking on cast iron cookware greatly helps. Its all I use. I know you have tried it, but how often ? That combined with the rich iron veggies is all i can think of... guess i wasnt a big help. Do you eat red meat?
     
    pollinator
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    i use cast iron as much as possible, have a skillet and a big pot and use essentially for everything.
    i also try to use molasses, which has some iron, if i`m using a sweetener. Heavy on lentils, and def keep an eye on that vitamin C.
     
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    I have a friend who swears on this:

    -Cut an apple
    -Sprinkle iron powder on it
    -Eat it

    Apparently, the iron chelates with something in the apple (pectin?), which makes it usable by the human body.

    I don't know her source of iron powder, maybe it is a drugstore.
     
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    My sister suffers from iron deficiency, and has done everything from iron shots to supplements to cast iron kettles.

    One of the best tips she got from her doctor was to eat beef with tomatos.... like spaghetti sauce or swiss steak. Something about the tomatos making the iron more bioavailable. I believe the doctor also told her not to drink milk or calcium rich foods with her iron rich meals.
     
    gardener
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    Cooking in cast iron *can* help, but the trick to making it work, is to cook acidic foods in it, like items with a fair level of tomato, citrus, or vinegar. The acidic foods then pick up the iron much better than non-acidic foods. You then will need to be a bit more diligent in the care of your pans, but it's worth it!
     
    Jay Angler
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    I just remembered a story from years ago. A nutritionist was looking at the diet of people in a poor area and was really surprised they weren't low on iron. They did eat a lot of saurkraut, but it's not high in iron. They they realized these people were far enough off the beaten path that they were still using simple iron knives as opposed to stainless steel to chop up all the cabbage to make that kraut. When they changed to stainless knives, they started showing anemic symptoms. We've got a *really* old chopper that rusts instantly if it's left wet, but it's not a tool I use on a daily basis, but I just don't know enough about knives to know how to reliably get one that would work. The downside is that you have to be much more reliable about sharpening. If I spot my neighbor, I'll ask him as something he says suggests he might know more about this.
     
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    I'm enjoying this thread but must admit I take a pill every day to keep my iron up. It's a massive problem in my family and as a preggo woman I gotta handle this!
     
    pollinator
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    Catie George wrote: I believe the doctor also told her not to drink milk or calcium rich foods with her iron rich meals.



    My doctor told me having dairy within even 12 hours of your iron greatly reduces the amount you absorb.

    It can be really hard to correct an iron deficiency through diet alone. You might want to use supplements to get your levels up and then maintain that level with diet. Years ago, after an illness, I had some deficiencies, iron being one of them, that I stubbornly tried to eat away. I tried all the tricks for increasing iron absorption, ate almost exclusively foods high in iron. Still wasn't enough. After a few months of supplements, all good.

    Life's pretty short to be chipping away at a health problem, feeling sick and tired the whole time, when there's a quick fix that will let you get on with things you actually want to be doing. I very much understand wanting to take the more difficult path, though.
     
    Jan White
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    Interesting side note that not everyone knows: iron deficiency can actually cause heavier periods. So you start getting anemic, you loose more blood and get more anemic, have even heavier periods, etc. Once you get into that cycle, I don't know if diet could ever fix it alone.
     
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    Consider taking dessicated liver supplement.
     
    steward
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    I concur with the suggestions that have already been made. Putting on my chemist hat to reply to this... (Sorry that it's so long, I'll include a short/simple suggestion at the end, and a couple of recipes.)

    There are three types of dietary iron: heme-iron which comes from animal blood, organic non-heme iron which comes from plants, and mineral iron which comes from cookware.

    The heme-iron is most easily absorbed by the body, and is generally more concentrated.

    Plant based and mineral iron are more readily absorbed if they are eaten with foods that are high in organic acids such as fruits, vinegar, or lacto-fermented veggies, or with sulfur compounds such as those contained in onions and garlic.

    Mineral iron comes from rusty knives, cast iron, etc, and can contribute significant iron to a diet.

    To get the most iron out of a cast iron pot, the pot shouldn't be seasoned, because a layer of varnish interferes with the absorption of iron. Also, acidic foods that are in contact with the pan for extended periods extract more iron: Something like a tomato soup that boils all day.   Or a barbecue sauce over meat. Or a stir-fry with not-red cooking-wine or vinegar added to the sauce. Or a pot of beans with vinegar added to the cooking liquid. The taste of boiled beans seems better to me if vinegar is added to the cooking water. Too much iron in food can make it taste metallic, so calibrate your taste buds, recipes, and cooking methods with the pans you are using.

    Tannins and other polyphenols, like found in coffee, tea, and red-wine, interfere with absorption of plant-based iron, so consider skipping coffee, tea, and red-wine for a few hours before/after a high-iron meal. Other foods high in polyphenols include walnuts, almonds, some legumes, red wine, cinnamon, cloves, chocolate. Basically, things that taste astringent.

    Phylates, like found in legumes and other seeds, may interfere with absorption of plant-based iron. Phylates can be reduced by soaking prior to cooking. I highly recommend soaking beans anyway for increased flavor. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting all reduce phylate concentrations.

    Medications such as proton-pump inhibitors or antacids can reduce the absorption of iron.

    Calcium inhibits the absorption of iron. So it may be helpful to avoid high calcium foods in combination with a high-iron meal. High calcium foods include dairy, and fish canned with bones. For example, tuna (no bones) would be a better choice than bony sardines.

    A little bit of animal-based iron added to a meal increases the absorption of plant-based iron. Thus we get back to traditional ways of eating such as soups or stir-fry.

    Beta carotene with a meal increases the uptake of organic iron. Foods high in beta carotene are orange or dark green: squash, parsley, cilantro, bok-choi leaves, broccoli, etc...

    Oxalates severely interfere with the absorption of iron. (So while spinach is a high-iron food, it doesn't contribute that iron to the body.) That might go a long way towards  explaining why I really dislike the taste of oxalates in my food. High oxalate foods include spinach, Swiss chard, rhubarb, beets, coffee, black tea, chocolate, nuts. They only interfere while they are being digested. Broccoli, and bok choi are low in oxalates.

    A protein in eggs interferes with absorption of iron.

    My suggestion would be to eat one high iron meal per day... And don't eat anything else for two hours before or after that meal. Liver and onions is the most traditional high-iron meal. The sulfur compounds in the onions help with absorption of the iron. Cooking it in an unseasoned cast iron skillet and adding an acid such as not-red cooking wine, tomatoes, or vinegar would help. Adding some high carotene greens like parsley, broccoli, or cilantro would help. Adding onions or garlic would help.

    A high iron meal might consist of parsley/onion/tomato soup cooked in a cast iron pot. Or a parsley/onion/vinegar stir-fry cooked in a traditional iron wok. Or fried liver/onions simmered with tomato sauce and onions in a cast iron frying pan.

    Here's a chart from a nutrition program I use that suggests quantities of (single item) food required to meet the adult female RDA.

    See also: Do You Absorb More Iron Cooking in a Cast Iron Pan? For what it's worth, I do most of my cooking in cast iron.  






    finding-iron.png
    [Thumbnail for finding-iron.png]
    Amounts needed to meet adult female RDA for iron
    iron-cookware.jpg
    [Thumbnail for iron-cookware.jpg]
    Iron knife, and skillet.
     
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