Mmm, iron-y!
July 13, 2010 3:25 PM   Subscribe

What are some ways I can fit more iron into my diet without resorting to iron supplements?

Following a long period of constant dizziness/nausea/weakness, I finally went for some blood work. My doctor told me my iron was low, as well as my Vitamin D and B12 levels.

He recommended 300 units of D, and to come in for a B12 shot if I felt particularly weak. My multivitamin (which I am very bad at taking daily and have now set an alarm to remind myself) seems to cover the D and B12. It also says it has 100% of my iron, but my doctor did recommend taking another iron supplement to boost things.

I hear that iron isn't the most gentle on the gastrointestinal side of things, and I'd like to avoid irritating my IBS. Thus, I'd like to increase my iron intake in terms of food instead.

I don't eat much meat, save for some chicken or turkey on occasion. I know that red meat is high in iron, but that's not an option for me. I also dislike salmon and most non-white-flesh fish. What can I eat that will give me lots of iron to ward off this crappy anemic feeling? I am trying to keep a low-calorie, low-fat diet as well, but for the sake of my health and sanity, I will deviate for yummy iron-rich foods. Thanks!
posted by rachaelfaith to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

This page might be helpful, especially given you're not a big meat eater: iron in the vegan diet. I'm not a vegan nor a nutritionist, but it seems pretty comprehensive (I found it by searching for "broccoli bok choi iron," with the two veggies I was sure had lots of iron in them.
posted by Shepherd at 3:29 PM on July 13, 2010

Have you tried googling vegetables rich in iron? There are tons of results.

This link seems to have good data.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:30 PM on July 13, 2010

posted by purpleclover at 3:30 PM on July 13, 2010

Lentils! Delicious and so nutritious.
posted by funfetti at 3:31 PM on July 13, 2010

Here are a couple of lists of food high in iron: Iron Rich Foods, Foods Highest In Iron.
posted by axismundi at 3:33 PM on July 13, 2010

Best answer: I know that you want to avoid taking supplements, but have you looked at supplements that are the gluconate form of iron rather than sulfate? They tend to cause less irritation. Floradix is a liquid version of iron gluconate.

I mention this because when I looked at the amount of iron in supplements compared to the amount in foods - even the amount in iron-rich foods is pretty small.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:38 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Good: chickpeas, lentils, broccoli!

Why do these sites list cooked spinach and not raw spinach? Is there some difference in the iron content in reference to how it's prepared?
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:39 PM on July 13, 2010

Best answer: Cook with cast iron!
posted by Night_owl at 3:39 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I also dislike salmon and most non-white-flesh fish.

What about shellfish? Clams, oysters, shrimp, and scallops are all good sources. Also consider lentils, leafy greens, eggs, and fortified cereal like cream of wheat (bonus: Judy Garland likes it, too).
posted by scody at 3:39 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: needs more cowbell: I have heard that some supplements are less irritating than others, and was looking into that. However, a trip down the vegetable and bean aisles is much cheaper than supplements (looks like a 30 day supply of Floradix is almost $40). I really can't swing that, but I can afford to switch up my diet.

scody: Unfortunately, I dislike shellfish as well. Will look into the other suggestions, though.
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:44 PM on July 13, 2010

I wrote this over in this askme, but it still applies: Iron from spinach is non-heme iron; iron from animal sources is heme iron. Iron from spinach is not as available for uptake by our bodies because spinach also contains oxalic acid, which inhibits iron uptake., but that can be helped along by consuming certain other foods - citrus, for instance, since vitamin C will enhance absorption.

Iron from plants is not as easy for out bodies to absorb as iron from animal sources.
posted by rtha at 3:44 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I drink Ovaltine to get extra iron. I use it instead of chocolate syrup to make cafe mochas.
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:45 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm all for the idea of cooking in cast iron. Does it matter if it's old, new, pre-seasoned or not?
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:52 PM on July 13, 2010

I'm a vegetarian woman your age, and I tend to be low in iron too. Taking a multivitamin every day helps a lot, and I also eat lots of lentils and canned beans, especially black beans and kidney beans. Legumes are relatively high in iron, and I think that soaking and cooking them well can help reduce potential IBS issues.

Some ideas: I buy bags of pre-cooked black lentils at Trader Joe's and bake them with vegetables (tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, asparagus, whatever) and a bit of olive oil, or mix the lentils into salads or scrambled eggs. They taste fairly good and they're easy; I sometimes do this kind of vegetable roast in a toaster oven instead of the oven. I also make lots of dal-style soup with dried red lentils. I'm not a big fan of eating lots of raw leafy greens like spinach, so instead I stir them into my soups. Or I make ersatz stir-fries with lots of beans and tomatoes and zucchini and whatever other vegetable I have around the house, generally with olive oil and some garlic and onion. I'm no great cook but I'm not too picky of an eater either, and this kind of food seems to help keep my iron at acceptable levels.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:53 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

My iron-rich breakfast of champions is Vector cereal + handful of raisins + tablespoon of molasses drizzled over + almond milk, with a little citrus juice or fresh fruit on the side for Vitamin C.

Make sure to pair iron withVvitamin C to help its absorption, and avoid pairing iron with calcium, tea, or coffee, all of which hinder its absorption.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:59 PM on July 13, 2010

Beets have a lot of iron. Wrapping them in foil, roasting for 45 minutes or so (until done / soft enough to cut with a fork), then slipping the skins off and slicing is a great way to eat them. You can also cube and add to salads.

Slicing and serving with orange slices, orange juice, lemon vinaigrette, or some other citrus component will give you a great source of iron.

Here's a recipe I just found.

From the vegans and iron web site linked above: Vitamin C acts to markedly increase absorption of non-heme iron. Adding a vitamin C source to a meal increases non-heme iron absorption up to six-fold...
posted by amtho at 4:10 PM on July 13, 2010

Neither Proferrin or Bifera aggravate my IBS or cause any gastrointestinal distress of any sort.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:13 PM on July 13, 2010

Spinach and other vegetables with lots of oxalic acid inhibit iron uptake. Forget about spinach, you will not absorb nearly as much as you would from, say, broccoli.

Tea inhibits iron uptake. Drink less tea, or at least not with meals.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:18 PM on July 13, 2010

Eggs; seaweed.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:22 PM on July 13, 2010

Best answer: Re: cooked versus raw spinach--spinach cooks down a ton, so if you are measuring by volume, which most of these sites do, a cup of cooked spinach is way more spinach than a cup of raw spinach.

Cooking the spinach also reduces the amount of oxalic acid (by somewhere on the order of 50%, according to these numbers), so you absorb iron more effectively from cooked spinach.
posted by phoenixy at 4:28 PM on July 13, 2010

Things you learn from QI: Thyme.
posted by juv3nal at 4:38 PM on July 13, 2010

Best answer: Iron absorption is aided by 2 things:
- the "MFP factor" (meat, fish, and poultry factor)
- vitamin C

It's inhibited by several things:
- Tannins (so never drink tea or coffee with a meal, always drink it between meals)
- Calcium (you need to make sure you're getting enough calcium if your vitamin D levels are low, though, so don't cut this out just to promote your iron levels)
- Fiber (but often, good sources of fiber, like legumes, are good sources of iron, so this is somewhat balanced out)

So, to maximize not just your iron intake but, more importantly, your iron absorption, eat iron-rich foods alongside foods that are rich in vitamin C. For example, a bowl of beef chili with tomatoes is going to provide you with iron from beef, iron from beans, and vitamin C from chili. It's a good source of iron (though I'm guessing yours may need to be mild to avoid triggering your IBS - beef stew, perhaps?).

A poster above mentioned "heme" and "non-heme" sources of iron. Heme is more easily absorbed than non-heme. Heme comes from meats, non-heme from plants (some non-heme is in meat, too, but no heme is found in plants). Vitamin C can triple your absorption of non-heme iron. The "MFP factor" I mentioned above also helps absorption of non-heme iron.

Also, it doesn't matter if your iron skillet is old, new, whatever. Just don't wash it with detergent between meals.

Finally, blackstrap molasses is only a good source of iron because the machinery used to process the molasses contains iron. It's an iron salt, though, so it's not very easily absorbed. Think meats, beans, and vitamin C! Good luck!
posted by pecanpies at 4:46 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome influx of information here. Thanks to phoenixy and pecanpies for insight into absorption as well.

I think I will look into supplements, but in the meantime, will look for some fortified breakfast foods, black beans and lentils, sea vegetables, chicken beets, blackstrap molasses, and will get myself a cast-iron pan.

Oh, and I don't intake any caffeine, so no worries about tea or coffee.
posted by rachaelfaith at 4:54 PM on July 13, 2010

Cashews & almonds; dried apricots; Cream of Wheat, and watermelon!
posted by Knowyournuts at 5:05 PM on July 13, 2010

I have heard that acidic foods (such as tomatoes and lemons, which are also a source of vitamin C) bring out the iron in a cast iron pan.

For vitamin D, spend at least 20 minutes in the sunshine each day.
posted by aniola at 5:46 PM on July 13, 2010

Thanks for this post, this is useful! I'm trying to increase iron in my diet but doctor also asked me to take 2 pills/day.

I don't have food suggestions to add, but a pharmacist gave me some tips for reducing supplement side effects: take it before bed (so you sleep through most side effects). If that doesn't work, try taking it about 1 hour after a meal at first, then gradually shift to taking it without a meal. A friend recommended lots of water and fiber to help with constipation; lentils and beans will be best, though you can also take a fiber supplement like BeneFiber, at a different time from when you take the supplement.

Ask the pharmacist if they have a generic version of your iron supplement: this will be cheaper. There are also coated supplements that are easier on your stomach, but they might cost more. Good luck!
posted by SarahbytheSea at 6:44 PM on July 13, 2010

No one mentioned kale? I blend a fistful of it (raw) up in my smoothies in the morning. Can't taste it at all and it's HUGE in iron.
posted by carlh at 7:27 PM on July 13, 2010

seconding floradix. just so you know, floradix is worth every penny. it's very tasty, and even with my supersensitive system, it has never caused me stomach irritation or constipation. (unlike every other iron supplement ever).

i'm a vegetarian and was anemic for a while and i can assure you, all the spinach, molasses, watermelon (which has as much iron as spinach), beans, etc -- even with vitamin c and calcium -- do nothing compared to iron supplements (if you actually need more iron, that is). and while floradix isn't the most potent, it has a good balance of effectiveness and palatability.

also, check with your doctor about more b-complex vitamins than just b12. i had b12 shots for a while, but the b-complex supplement i'm taking now works better for me, so i thought i'd throw that in.
posted by lesli212 at 9:09 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was very anemic and was getting iron injections. I could not get enough iron from food. I took Ferrous Sulphate iron elixir for a few months and it solved the problem. It did not give me intestinal problems. I have IBS, so food is an issue for me.
posted by fifilaru at 10:51 PM on July 13, 2010

This is something I constantly struggle with, and the only solutions I've found are to consume something rich in vitamin C while eating an iron rich food (e.g. fresh fruit juice with a fortified cereal- NOT drink grapefruit juice though) and to avoid consuming tea at the same time as the iron rich food (or other tannin-rich substances). Since non-haem iron is much harder to absorb, you need to help the absorption process along with Vitamin C. Maybe you could try some leafy greens in a smoothie? This site might give you a few ideas.

I've found many iron supplements to be extremely hard on the bolg so I understand your concerns re IBS. That said, I've had some success with an iron-rich water supplement- just put a sachet in the aforementioned fruit juice.

Best of luck.
posted by psychostorm at 4:41 AM on July 14, 2010

Also, just realized I meant to write that chili provides "vitamin C from tomatoes," not "vitamin C from chili." Sorry!
posted by pecanpies at 3:03 PM on July 14, 2010

« Older Help me translate my name into as many languages...   |   Backpack or messenger bag? And what sort of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.