Pumping Up Your Iron
By Melissa Diane Smith
Got anemia or iron deficiency? Learn how to eat gluten free to boost iron absorption.

When Linda O’Neill was diagnosed with celiac disease a year ago, she was diagnosed with something else as well: anemia. Often accompanied by symptoms such as tiredness and weakness, anemia develops when a person’s blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells, resulting in oxygen-deprived organs.

The most common types of anemia are iron-deficiency anemia, folate-deficiency anemia, and vitamin B12–deficiency anemia, each of which can develop as a result of celiac disease.

O’Neill was diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia. While her doctor prescribed specific supplements for O’Neill, she also needed to adopt a completely gluten-free diet to allow her gut to heal so it could efficiently absorb the nutrients to overcome the anemia. In addition, she needed to learn the secrets of using diet to improve her body’s absorption of iron.

Many people simply don’t know that what they eat and drink can affect iron status. If you have iron-deficiency anemia or if you want to prevent it, try these iron-boosting food strategies:

  • Make your diet meatier. To maximize iron absorption in the body, include more sources of heme iron, the type of iron found in animal products, which is absorbed at a significantly higher rate than nonheme iron, the iron found in grains, vegetables, and fruit. Good sources of heme iron include beef, pork, buffalo, venison, elk, ostrich, and the dark meat of chicken and turkey. Beef and chicken livers are extremely rich sources, but because toxins tend to accumulate in liver, choose liver from organic or grass-fed animals whenever possible. Fish is relatively low in iron, but the iron it has is easily absorbed. Plus, adding fish to a bean meal can significantly increase absorption of iron from the beans.
  • Think iron and vitamin C together. Vitamin C and other acids improve iron absorption, so increase your consumption of vitamin C when you eat iron-rich meals. Try dishes that include citrus fruits, tomato products, or vitamin C–rich vegetables, such as broccoli, potatoes, and red, green, and orange bell peppers, with iron-rich meats. Or serve vitamin C–rich foods as side dishes with iron-rich meat entrées. If you are a vegetarian, include vitamin C–rich foods with vegetarian sources of iron, such as teff, amaranth, quinoa, white beans, chickpeas, and dried fruits, to help improve the body’s absorption of iron from those foods.
  • Beware of iron depleters. Few people realize it, but factors that inhibit iron absorption include high-dose supplements and calcium-rich foods; phytic acid, which is found in grains and legumes; and drinking coffee or tea with meals. To limit these factors, don’t take calcium supplements and don’t eat calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products, at the same time that you eat iron-rich foods or take iron supplements. Reduce your intake of grains and legumes, or try soaking grains or legumes before cooking to reduce phytic acid. Taking a phytase enzyme helps break down phytic acid as well. And if you’re a vegetarian, which puts you at risk of developing iron deficiency, get in the habit of drinking tea or coffee between, instead of during, meals. Drinking tea with a meal reduces absorption of nonheme iron by 62 percent. However, eating adequate heme iron foods and food sources of vitamin C overcomes inhibition of iron absorption from even large quantities
    of tea.



Pot Roast with Vegetables Serves 8

Made with iron-rich beef combined with vitamin C–rich tomato-based vegetable juice, this is an easy all-in-one dish to make to help boost iron levels. To add even more vitamin C to the meal, serve with a salad of greens, chopped red peppers, and fresh lemon juice–and–olive oil dressing. Have a cup of strawberries or an orange for dessert.

Reprinted from Healthier Holidays Going Against the Grain, by Melissa Diane Smith.

1½ Tbs. organic extra virgin olive oil

1–1½-lb. organic chuck roast (as thin as possible)

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon (optional, for slightly richer flavor)

3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch chunks

2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, quartered

½ lb. fresh green beans, snapped into 2-inch-long pieces

1 medium red-skin potato, quartered

5 cloves whole peeled garlic

1½ cups vegetable juice

1½ tsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves

  1. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven or deep saucepan over medium-high heat; brown roast on both sides. Remove pan from heat.
  2. Sprinkle roast with cinnamon, if using. Put carrots, celery, onion, beans, potato, and garlic around roast; pour vegetable juice over all.
  3. Put pan back on stove; turn heat to medium-high. When liquid starts to bubble, cover, turn heat to low, and simmer 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until roast and vegetables are tender, checking every 20 minutes to see that there is enough liquid and that roast isn’t sticking to bottom of pan. Add 1/4 cup more vegetable juice or water, if dish seems too dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste; sprinkle parsley atop each serving.

PER SERVING: 287 CAL; 18 G PROT; 18 G TOTAL FAT (7 G SAT FAT); 12 G CARB; 56 MG CHOL; 171 MG SOD; 3 G FIBER; 4 G SUGARS

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