When it comes to health, balance is always key. One of the main reasons a balanced diet is so important is because food provides us with our main source of vitamins and nutrients. These elements are the fundamental pillars on which our health is supported. Of all the essential nutrients our bodies need, iron is arguably one of the most important; which is why we owe it to ourselves to take a moment to understand some of the basics when it comes to incorporating Iron into our diet.
What is iron and why do we need it?
Iron is a vital element of human biology. The majority of our iron is found in red blood cells known as hemoglobin and in the cells of muscles, myoglobin. These iron rich cells are important in the transportation and transference of oxygen from the lungs to tissue throughout the body. Without iron the blood and rest of the body may suffer from a lack of oxygen. In severe cases, depleted levels of iron may lead to the development of anemia, which is associated with a multitude of mild to severe symptoms including: brittle nails, headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, increased heartrate and palpitations. Anemia is most common in individuals with bone related cancers.
What is the best way to consume iron?
Though it is possible to get iron in the form of supplements, a study from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden recently linked certain Iron supplements to an increased risk of developing cancer4.. While additional research may be needed to further validate these findings, this discovery serves as a reminder of the importance of incorporating iron rich foods into your diet rather than relying on supplements. Here at Cook For Your Life some of our favorite iron rich foods include spinach, legumes, shellfish and quinoa.
If you’re looking for a way to include spinach in your diet, try starting your day right with our Spinach and Cheese Omelet. This quick and easy meal is sure to give you the energy boost you need to begin your day. For those looking for something to satisfy them a little later in the day we recommend trying Ann’s famous Matelote de Poissons – French Seafood Stew. As a fun summery option our Quinoa Stuffed tomatoes are a must try option. Tomatoes which are rich in Vitamin C are also known to help with the absorption of iron. For an excellent iron packed salad be sure to try our Black and White Bean Salad. Check out our menu full of ideas on how to increase your iron.
Red meat is also a well-known source of iron but with multiple studies linking it to higher rates of cancer it is important to be mindful of limiting your consumption of red meat. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests consuming no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week. For more information read here about the best ways to safely incorporate red meat into your diet.
How to get the most out of your meal?
Bioavailability is a term used to describe the amount of a substance our body is able to absorb into circulation when consumed. It is helpful to consider bioavailability in relation to iron in order to make sure we are getting the required amount in our diet. In a well-balanced diet that includes meat, seafood and vitamin C (an important ascorbic acid, which increases the bioavailability of iron) the bioavailability of iron is approximately 14% to 18% and 5% to 12% for vegetarian based diets1. When it comes to preparing foods like spinach, studies have shown that cooked spinach, compared to uncooked, has greater amounts of bioavailable iron. Cooking with a cast iron skillet has also been shown to improve iron intake being that the small amounts of iron from the skillet that make their way into our food are actually bioavailable to us3..
***Also, important to note is that dairy products and other calcium rich foods, have been found to inhibit the amount of iron absorption2. So, if your trying to increase your iron levels, you should also be mindful of your calcium intake.