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Increase Your Iron Intake

Jun 27, 2016 11:50AM ● Published by Elena Hutslar

Increase Iron Intake

By Esther Catalya, MD

Iron is one of the main components our body uses to keep active. It’s necessary to produce proper hemoglobin molecules, which deliver oxygen throughout our bodies. When your body is lacking iron, it is easy to become fatigued, even with very little activity.

Iron comes in two dietary forms, heme and nonheme. Heme is primarily absorbed from lean meats and seafood. An individual can absorb up to 30 percent of iron from these foods, whereas nonheme is absorbed from plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Nonheme foods only allow your body to absorb between two and ten percent of the iron because it is more difficult for our body to process compared to heme iron.

When you aren’t getting enough iron, a common disease occurs called iron-deficiency anemia. This disease is more prevalent amongst vegetarians since they don’t consume the easier to absorb heme from meat and seafood. However, vegetarians are not the only individuals with this disease. There are many simple ways to increase your iron intake, starting with your diet.

As previously mentioned, lean meat and poultry are important foods that help increase and maintain iron levels. Some examples of foods with heme iron are turkey, lamb, beef, pork, and liver. Seafood contains heme iron and is equivalently beneficial. For those who don’t eat meat, there are other options to increase your iron as well. Dark leafy greens such as broccoli, spinach, kale, collards and beet greens, as well as nuts and beans, contain significant amounts of iron. When eating only nonheme iron, it is advisable to eat more of these foods in order to meet the daily needs for your body.

When eating foods that contain non-heme iron, pair them with vitamin C rich foods or drinks (citrus, strawberries, and tomatoes) to enhance the amount of iron you can absorb from the meal. In addition, cooking in a cast-iron skillet increases the amount of iron in your food, which can raise your iron levels. When lean meats, poultry, or seafood are paired with nuts or dark leafy greens, iron absorption can be improved up to three times. Furthermore, avoid mixing your iron rich foods with calcium, soy proteins, and fibers because these nutrients inhibit the absorption of iron.

If changing your diet doesn’t make a significant difference in maintaining your iron levels, it may be time to speak with your doctor about further testing and medication options.

Dr. Catalya is a medical oncologist & hematologist with Diablo Valley Oncology & Hematology Medical Group. She sees patients in Pleasant Hill and Rossmoor. For more information, please call 925-677-5041.


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