With over 2 billion people affected globally, iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutritional disorder in the world. While iron is considered a trace nutrient and the average person needs only 8 – 18 mg daily (depending on gender and age), iron is one of the hardest nutrients to digest. Even if your gastrointestinal tract functions perfectly, your body absorbs less than 20% of the total bio-available iron from the food you eat.
While it is impossible to accurately self-diagnose an iron deficiency, you can read our previous post revealing many warning signs to look for that might suggest whether or not you are affected by this widespread disorder. If you believe that you may be iron-deficient, read on to discover 10 easy and natural ways to improve your iron levels and reverse or prevent an iron deficiency.
1. Eat More Lean Meats
Iron found in red meat, poultry and fish – known as heme iron – is much more easily absorbed by the human digestive tract. If you think you may be iron deficient, try adding an extra helping of lean meat to your daily menu.
Remember that while there are many seemingly excellent vegetable sources of iron like soy, spinach and other dark leafy greens, the non-heme iron found in plants is much harder to digest.
2. Steam Your Veggies
The process of steaming vegetables increases the bio-availability of iron contained within them. Just be sure not to over-cook your veggies as this can quickly denature many of the delicate nutrients they have to offer.
3. Take Vitamin C
Ascorbic acid, more commonly known as Vitamin C, plays a major role in the absorption of iron in the intestines. Eating foods high in vitamin C in conjunction with iron-rich foods can go a long way toward preventing or reversing an iron deficiency. Try adding sweet red or yellow peppers to high-protein meals for a healthy dose of ascorbic acid. Also, check out healthaliciousness.com’s list of foods highest in vitamin C for more great ideas.
You can also take vitamin C supplements before or after eating a meal high in iron to promote better absorption.
4. Get More B Vitamins
Folic acid (B-9) and cobalamin (B-12) can both help to reverse or prevent an iron-deficiency. B-12 is readily available from fish, poultry and red meat, all of which are also great sources of iron. B-9 is found in high concentrations in vegetables like avocado, oranges, dark leafy greens and many legumes which are also excellent vegetarian sources of iron.
5. Watch Out For Inhibitors
While there are several nutrients which help the body to better digest and process iron, there are also quite a few inhibitors. Minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper compete with iron for absorption. Phytic acid found in grains, legumes, and vegetables binds to iron and carries it out of the digestive tract undigested. Also, high fiber foods can cause iron to pass through the intestines without being absorbed. Another iron-inhibitor, tannic acid is commonly used in beer and wine as a clarifying agent, as well as in soft drinks and juices to impart a more appetizing aroma.
6. Avoid Taking Antacids
Both calcium and magnesium which are found in large concentrations in antacid tablets compete with iron for absorption in the digestive tract. To be sure you’re getting the most iron from your food that you possibly can, try to avoid taking antacids right after eating an iron-rich meal.
7. Avoid Cigarette Smoke
It’s no secret that cigarette smoke is bad for you. Quitting smoking will improve not only your iron levels, but also every other aspect of your health. Also, be sure to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke as breathing these toxic fumes can be even worse than directly inhaling from a filtered cigarette!
8. Heal Your Digestive Tract
Iron is very hard for the body to digest and requires lots of hydrochloric acid to be processed. As previously mentioned, even with a perfectly healthy digestive tract, the human body still only absorbs less than 20% of the total bio-available iron from foods we eat. If your digestion becomes unbalanced, this number will drop significantly. Check out these 10 Warning Signs of Poor Digestion and 12 Probiotic Foods for Better Gut Health to learn more!
9. Try Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses is one of the oldest natural remedies for iron deficiency. Not only is blackstrap molasses full of iron, it is also high in folic acid and other B vitamins which are known to boost red blood cell production and help combat anemia. You can purchase high-quality organic blackstrap molasses here. Also, be sure to try out some of these awesome recipes by the taste space for using blackstrap molasses.
10. Use Cast Iron Cookware
Cooking food in a cast iron pan can add a significant amount of iron to a meal. This is especially true with highly acidic foods like tomatoes, olive oil, cheese and other dairy products. Also, the longer food stays in the pan, the more iron will transfer into it.
If you’re only going to own one piece of cast iron cookware, I highly recommend this Lodge pre-seasoned 15” skillet – the most frequently used item in my kitchen! You may also want to try slow-cooking tomato sauce in a cast iron Dutch oven like this one to add more iron to your diet. One final tip from a veteran cast iron cook: If you find that your traditional oven mitts are too thin to protect your hands from hot handles, try on a pair of these instead.
How Do I Know If I’m Iron-Deficient?
If you aren’t familiar with the symptoms, check out these 18 Warning Signs Of Iron Deficiency. As always, remember that the information provided in this article isn’t meant to replace your doctor’s expert advice. Only a medical professional can perform the tests to accurately diagnose iron deficiency.