Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems in the world. And while it’s often associated with poverty, it occurs even in well-nourished parts of the world.
Younger women—those who still have their periods—are at risk for iron deficiency anemia because iron is lost through menstrual blood every month. That’s why young women have iron needs that are nearly twice as high as those for men and for women who have gone through menopause. The heavier your period, the more iron you lose.
Plant foods are packed with iron and people are often surprised to know that vegans and vegetarians often consume more iron than meat-eaters. While we think of red meat as an iron powerhouse, the fact is that ½ cup of cooked lentils has a little bit more than 3 milligrams of iron compared to just over 1 milligram in a three-ounce serving of beef.
The issue for vegans is that iron isn’t absorbed as well from plant foods, especially whole grains and beans. There are easy ways to improve that absorption, though, and eating more vitamin C is probably the most important.
Pairing up foods that provide vitamin C and iron can have a dramatic effect on iron absorption, boosting it as much as fourfold. But you need to consume the vitamin C and the iron at the same time in order for vitamin C to do its work.
Whole and enriched grains and beans are especially good sources of iron. So are certain nuts and seeds. Include one of these foods along with a vitamin-C rich fruit or veggie and you shouldn’t have any trouble maintaining a healthy iron status. Click on the graphic below for some easy ways to make the most of iron in your diet.
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