What about Iron?

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This is one of the most common questions you will get if you are vegetarian or vegan. How do you get enough iron? Iron is found in plenty of foods, not just in animal products, and if you are eating enough fresh, organic, varied produce and avoiding substances that inhibit its absorption such as the Pill, too much coffee, tea and alcohol, then it should not be a problem. Have a look at the following table for a quick overview of some of the iron containing foods.

                                            Estimated mg of iron per 100g serving                Serving   Blackstrap molasses                                       16.2                                                      14g    Sesame seeds                                                    14.5                                                      36g    Pumpkin seeds                                                11.2                                                       34g    Parsley                                                               6.2                                                       7.5g    Soya beans                                                        5.11                                                      170g    Almonds                                                             4.7                                                       34g   Prunes                                                                3.9                                                       42g    Cashew nuts                                                      3.6                                                       34g    Spinach                                                              3.5                                                       180g    Beef cooked                                                       3.5                                                        113g    Brazil nuts                                                         3.4                                                       34g     Lentils                                                                3.3                                                       198g    Dates                                                                    3                                                         42g     Walnuts                                                              2.9                                                       25g     Pork                                                                    2.9                                                        113g    Kidney beans                                                    2.9                                                        177g     Sardines                                                             2.9                                                        92g     Wholemeal bread                                             2.7                                                        36g     Raisins                                                                2.5                                                        36g     Lamb                                                                   2.4                                                       113g     Sweet potato                                                      1.8                                                        77g    Eggs                                                                    1.18                                                       44g    Avocado                                                            0.95                                                       146g   

We have 3.5 - 5g of iron in our bodies. 65-70% of it makes up part of the haemoglobin, which is the pigment of the red blood cells, 25% is stored within the liver, spleen, bone-marrow and muscles and  4% is used within myoglobin and iron-containing enzymes. Haemoglobin is responsible for the supply of oxygen through the body- no minor job. It is why we want to make sure we do not become deficient in the iron needed to produce it! Times when there may be an increased need for iron in our diets are when pregnant, breast feeding, during excessive sport training, blood loss from trauma or surgery and in digestive disorders such as Chrons or Cealiac.

In over 10 years of being vegan, I have had blood tests every couple of years to check all my levels and only once was there a problem. That was recently after having my son, whom I hemorrhaged after having a beautiful calm home birth ...eek...

Deficiency symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • General lack of energy and stamina
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Pale pallor
  • Dry, brittle nails & hair
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpatations
  • Insomnia

I always prefer to look at whole foods for health but when experiencing these symptoms due to lack of enough iron, then I believe it is beneficial to supplement for a period of time, along side also increasing the iron containing food in your diet. Great ideas for kids and adults are using tahini spread, making bliss balls with lots of the nuts in them, and green smoothies with kale, spinach, fruits and where you can add the blackstrap molassas.

For supplementation I recommend

  • Metagenics VegeCare It is not natural, so I no longer will prescribe it but they are vegan, high dosage and also contain B6, B12 and Folic Acid.
  • Spatone, as it is 100% natural, even though it is "low" dosage it is easily absorbed in liquid form and you can simply take two packets.
  • Floridix is an organic iron source, great for kids as is also liquid, easily absorbed and mixed with herbs and juice

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Chart- 1 Webster-Gandy J, Madden A, Holdsworth M Ed's (2006) Oxford Handbook of Nutrition and Dietetics. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

2  D. McKenna (Royal Victoria Hospital) et al. 'a randomised trial investigating and iron-rich natural mineral water as a prophylaxis against iron deficiency in pregnancy' in Clinical and Laboratory Haematology, 2003, 25 99-103