Grew up on Cape Cod, Mass. Army Vet., Fmr. Director of Energy Conservation programs, RE Agent. Current residence: the Space Coast, FL.
The Importance of Iron
Iron is a much needed mineral that we get through the foods we eat. Iron plays an essential role in energy production in the human body. A component of red blood cells, it binds with oxygen that is absorbed through the lungs, that oxygen then becomes part of the chemical process of energy production, as blood carries oxygen throughout the body.
There are two sources of iron: heme iron, found in animal protein and fish, and nonheme iron, which is found in plants. This article will focus on good sources of nonheme iron.
When your body does not have enough iron, your cells do not receive enough oxygen and cannot produce enough energy. If you aren’t producing enough energy, you’ll feel tired, lethargic, or weak, this can be a sign or symptom of anemia.
Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia and occurs when the body does not have enough iron. The body needs iron to produce hemoglobin.
Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body than nonheme, but research has shown that you can increase your body’s ability to absorb nonheme iron by eating foods high in vitamin C with your meal. That makes our first food worthy of note, as it is high in both vitamin C and Iron.
Below are some of the top non-meat iron sources available to you.
Peas (Preferably Podded)
With 58mg of vitamin C and 2mg of nonheme iron per cup, peas make a great side dish, they may not seem particularly high in iron, but 100g of peas will give you around 10g or iron which is a good amount for any one meal. Be sure to not overcook them, however, over-boiling causes most of the vitamins and minerals to come out of the pod. The closer to raw you can eat them, the better, cooking vegetables actually depletes them of most of their nutrients and enzymes.
Another great way of having peas, which produces additional protein and vitamins, is allowing them to sprout, when seeds and beans sprout, they consume starch, and produce more protein and vitamins.
Sprouting also partially degrades counterproductive anti-nutrients, like phytic acid. Phytic acid can inhibit absorption of some minerals including iron and zinc. Making sprouting even more beneficial for vegetarians who may be low in iron.
You can read more about Sprouting HERE
Soybeans (Tofu and Tempeh)
Soybeans provide about 7mg of nonheme iron per cup. Tofu is made of soybeans, it always pops up on healthy food lists as a vegetarian favorite, tofu is incredibly versatile and takes on the flavor of the thing that you cook it with.
Tofu is great in a wide range of dishes, it’s one of the most iron-rich foods you can eat. It’s also full of protein, which is a primary reason so many vegetarians eat it. There is also tempeh, a food that’s actually quite similar to tofu. It’s similar to tofu with huge amounts of iron within it, as well as protein. It’s also incredibly filling and offers long-lasting energy, which is why it’s such a popular meat alternative and why it’s perfect for slicing and serving with vegetables.
Soybeans are just as good by themselves, packed with protein. They’re one of the richest iron sources you can get, in terms of beans and vegetables, and they’re also packed full of other dietary metals like copper. The copper in soybeans helps keep your blood vessels healthy and your immune system strong, and the iron keeps the blood flowing and delivering oxygen throughout your body.
The video below gives tips on how to prepare tofu, its qualities and uses.
Nothing surprised me more when I was looking for information on iron rich foods than when I saw that potatoes are the most iron-rich foods you can eat, like soybeans they provide about 7mg of iron per cup. However, it depends on how the potato is prepared. As I mentioned about peas, it’s important how they are cooked. If you want to benefit from the iron found within this root, it’s important to prepare them in a way that isn’t too fattening and isn’t over-processed.
Boiled, baked and roasted potatoes (with their skins) are the best ways to prepare them. Deep fried french fries, forget about it, they offer none of the benefits, and all of the starch.
One of my favorites, spinach on average only has 3mg of iron per cup. However, spinach is so easy to use in so many ways, and in larger quantities than other foods, as a salad, with almost no preparation effort involved. Indeed, one of my favorite breakfasts in the morning is a tofu and spinach or avocado and spinach salad, sometimes with bits of cranberry, tangerine, or blue berries sprinkled in.
There is a reason why Popeye got a boost from eating spinach, in addition to iron, it is rich in fiber, calcium, vitamin A and E, and protein. And along with being featured in salads and sandwiches raw, spinach can be boiled or added into nearly any dish.
What makes dried apricots great is that they have 6mg of iron per cup, but more than that, they can be taken to school, work or anywhere, and you’ll always have a snack at hand! As with any dried fruit, it has a much longer shelf life than regular fruit.
Dried apricots are an excellent source of important nutrients like fiber, potassium and antioxidant carotenoids. Although the drying process degrades the fruit’s vitamins such as vitamin C.
Fresh apricots of course offer more health benefits, as they will have more vitamins and nutrients.
Finally, lets not forget about seeds. Pumpkin seeds (and lots of other seeds) are packed full of nutrition. Raw peptides can deliver about 2mg of iron per cup, they are also an excellent source of zinc, zinc helps maintain optimum immune function and wound healing. As with dried apricots, pumpkin seeds can be taken as a snack to work or school. And you could add pumpkin seeds to your spinach salad.
Most seed varieties such as sesame, sunflower and more, can provide up to 25% of your daily iron needs in a cup. Seeds are a very good source of beta carotene, Omega 3, protein, minerals magnesium and manganese, iron, zinc, copper and vitamin K.
Some more facts on Pumpkin seeds (the snack replacement) below:
© 2017 Ken Burgess
Bidita Rahman on December 01, 2017:
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Hemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body's iron. If you don't have enough iron, your body can't make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Thanks for your post to learn about these foods more.