It is often thought that you need to eat meat in order to get enough iron. Not true. A diet based on minimally processed whole plant foods will give your body all the iron it needs for good health. And an additional benefit plant sources of iron have over meat is that they offer thousands of other nutritional goodies, such as fibre and phytochemicals that help protect against disease, including some cancers. So how do you ensure you get enough iron from a diet based on whole plant foods?
Plant sources of iron
Tofu, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and iron-fortified wholegrain breakfast cereals are all good plant sources of iron. The key is to simply enjoy a variety of plant foods every day to ensure you receive an adequate iron intake just try to include a plant source of iron at each meal.
It is true that, in isolation, the body does not absorb plant sources of iron as well as it does the iron found in meat. However, simply by including foods containing vitamin C at each meal, the level of iron absorption from plant sources is increased to a level very similar to that of meat. Great iron enhancers include citrus fruits, fruit juices, berries, tomato, capsicum, broccoli and cabbage.
Iron absorption can also be inhibited by some foods. Take tea and coffee for example. Both the caffeine and the polyphenols found in tea and coffee inhibit the absorption of iron from food. So, to make the most of the iron-rich plant foods you enjoy, you need to avoid drinking tea, coffee and cola drinks with your meals.
Do I need a supplement?
Low iron levels do occur particularly at times when you are finding it difficult to eat well or at a time when your iron requirements are higher, including during menstruation and pregnancy or while breastfeeding. However, this does not always mean you need an iron supplement. In most cases, low iron levels can be reversed with some small changes in your diet. It's important to consult a doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) if you think that your iron levels may be low.
Try these tips to get the most iron from your diet:
|Have a 'berry' nice breakfast
||Add some berries to your iron-fortified breakfast cereal each day. The vitamin C in the berries will help absorb the iron from the cereal.
|Enjoy a glass of juice
||Have a glass of orange juice with your wholegrain breakfast cereal or toast in the morning.|
|Make a salad
||Combine baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, capsicum and feta cheese and top with a low-fat balsamic dressing. Baby spinach is high in iron, while the tomatoes and red capsicum help increase the absorption of the iron.|
|Add tomatoes and capsicum to your meals||Add tomatoes and red capsicum to your sandwiches, lentils, bean, pasta and rice dishes to help increase the absorption of iron. Try our recipe for vegetable moussaka to see how easily this can be done.|