What do these foods have in common: Raisins, Mung Beans, Pumpkin Seeds and Leafy Greens?
Well, all of them are a good source of iron – a vital mineral for our body.
Last time we saw the importance of iron for our health and hair. Let’s do a quick recap, and then find out various ways to up iron levels.
We need oxygen to breathe and stay alive. But how does the oxygen get transported throughout our body? Well, with the help of iron. Not directly. Oxygen doesn’t just sit on iron and gets going. Iron is utilised to make haemoglobin, the red substance in the blood that carries oxygen from our lungs to all parts of the body.
So, less iron means less haemoglobin in the blood. And that, in turn, means less oxygen to our cells.
Some of the signs of iron deficiency are tiredness, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. But lower iron levels can also cause an increase in hair fall and reduce the chances of hair regrowth.
Apparently, iron deficiency is common in pre-menopausal women who lose blood during menstruation. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an estimated 20 per cent of women of childbearing age are iron deficient (1).
The good news is that iron deficiency is easily treatable. And as your iron levels get restored, you can see an improvement in your hair, your energy levels and overall health. Here are 3 best ways to up your iron levels:
- Eat Iron-Rich Foods
- Cook in Iron Pots and Pans
- Oral Iron Supplements
1. Eat Iron-Rich Foods
The usual understanding is that the best sources of iron are meat and eggs. But iron is also present in large amounts in many vegetarian foods. Although, iron from animal sources of food is said to be more easily absorbed by the body.
I eat mostly plant-based foods, and I have never had a problem maintaining my iron levels. But I do eat a lot of beans and lentils, which are packed with iron.
Here’s the List of Iron-Rich Foods you can eat:
- Red Meat: Lamb, beef, goat and their organ meat
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck and their eggs
- Seafood: fish, mussels, oysters, shrimps
- Lentils and beans (mung beans, chickpeas, Bengal gram, soybeans)
- Wheat, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth
- Nuts (cashew nut, almonds) and seeds (sesame, pumpkin)
- Green leafy vegetables
- Dried fruits: raisin, apricot and prunes
You can enhance your iron absorption by eating foods rich in vitamin C at the same time that you eat high-iron foods. Vitamin C is found in: lime, oranges, tomatoes, kiwi, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, green and red pepper, etc.
On the other hand, coffee, tea and red wine, can reduce iron absorption. Some herbal teas also inhibit iron absorption: peppermint tea, chamomile and lime flower tea.
Okay, now let’s look at what can boost your iron levels, which brings us to the second point.
2. Use Iron Pots and Pans to Add Iron to Your Food
How does it work?
When you cook in iron pots, the molecules of iron either flake off or are absorbed by the food you are cooking. This was proven by researchers who tested 20 foods. They measured the iron content of foods when raw and after cooking in iron and non-iron utensils.
Researchers found that cooking in an iron pot can greatly enhance the iron content of food vs when cooked in a non-iron pan. Also, the longer the cooking time, the greater is the absorption. But, even cooking simple foods such as fried egg or pancakes can almost double the iron content of food (2).
This is fantastic. When you eat iron-rich foods as a part of a complete meal, you have a better chance of absorbing and assimilating it properly. This is because iron-rich foods contain a range of other beneficial nutrients that work together to support overall digestion. And this will then translate into getting strong, lustrous hair and flawless skin.
Tip: Once you are done cooking, don’t leave the food in an iron pot, as it will make your food blackish. You can transfer it into a glass or steel container.
3. Oral Iron Supplements to Boost Iron Levels
If you have a mild iron deficiency, eating iron-rich foods and cooking in iron pots and pans can help to increase your iron stores.
But if your iron levels are very low, and as a result, you have low red cell count and haemoglobin, this condition is known as iron deficiency anaemia. Your doctor may recommend you iron supplements to replenish the iron stores.
And do note: It’s inappropriate to take iron pills without consulting your doctor. Why?? Because it can do more harm than good. Excess iron can cause constipation and stomach upset, but it can also damage your organs. So it’s best to work with your health care practitioner when taking iron pills.
This brings us to the end of the article. Let’s do a quick recap of what we have seen so far:
- You can boost your iron by eating iron-rich foods such as meat, fish, beans, lentils and leafy greens. And this way, it’s also easily absorbed by the body without causing any side effects.
- You can enhance the iron content of foods by cooking them in iron pots.
- While iron supplements are easily available over the counter, you should always consult your doctor before taking iron supplements, as excess iron can do more harm than good.
How do you maintain healthy iron levels? Let me know in the comment box below…
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