How to Increase the Absorption of Iron From Foods

Got anemia or iron deficiency? Learn how to eat gluten free to boost iron absorption.
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What are the signs of anemia?

Those with mild anemia may not notice symptoms. Others with anemia may experience fatigue, dizziness, irritability, brittle nails, chest pain, cold hands or feet, irregular heartbeat, and various other symptoms.

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:

3 Diet Tips for Increasing Iron in Food

1. Make your diet meatier. 

Slow Cooked Cherry Beef with Winter Squash recipe

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.

2. Take 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.

3. Beware of factors that deplete iron. 

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.

Iron Rich Soups

View Recipe: Pot Roast with Vegetables

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What could be more comforting on a crisp autumn day than a bowl of steaming hot, creamy soup? Pacific Natural Foods has added two new flavors to their line of gluten-free soups: Spicy Black Bean Soup and Tuscan White Bean Soup. Spicy Black Bean boasts a zingy south-of-the-border flair, with onions, peppers, cilantro, and cumin, while Tuscan White Bean offers navy beans, garlic, and Parmesan for a rich and mellow Mediterranean flavor. Both of these savory blends are made with all-natural ingredients, plus they're high in fiber and come in convenient aseptic packages. All you do is pour, heat, and eat!

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