- Getting the most out of your Iron Rich Foods
If you’ve been diagnosed with iron-deficiency anaemia your doctor will take the appropriate steps to treat the condition. This is because as we have seen IDA can be caused by a variety of reasons other than just lacking sufficient iron in your diet.
Incorporating a variety of healthy foods into your diet is the best way of preventing and treating iron deficiency. Protein foods (meats and pulses) and greens provide the most iron in your diet.
Iron Rich Foods
Iron in our diet comes into two forms depending on the source. The first type is called heme iron and is primary found in animal foods while the second type, non-heme iron is found in both animal and plant sources. The main difference between this two is that heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron.
Some iron rich foods include:
Animal Sources (heme & non-heme source)
- Chicken Liver
- Beef (lean)
- Beef liver
- Egg yolk
Generally speaking, white and red meat are good sources of iron. However, when buying meat choose lean cuts or make sure to trim the excess fat before cooking.
Plants (non-heme iron)
- Dark green leafy vegetables – kales, spinach, broccoli etc.
- Pulses (dried beans, lentils, and soybeans)
- Parsley (“dania”)
- Water melon
- Iron fortified cereals (maize meal “ugali”, wheat flour, breakfast cereals)
- Whole-grain/Wholemeal bread
- Nuts and seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Getting the most out of your Iron Foods
Iron absorption is affected by some factors so it’s always wise to ensure you’re getting the most out of these foods. This is especially true of iron from plant-sources (non-heme iron) which we’ve seen is not as well absorbed as that from animal sources. Vegetarians should also consider these points carefully as they don’t consume meats which are a rich source of heme iron.
Some guidelines to increase iron intake and absorption are as follows:
- Eat iron rich foods together with foods that are rich in Vitamin C as it enhances absorption of iron. Vitamin C rich foods include citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, limes, tangerine) and their juices, guavas, tomatoes and tomato juice, greens, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
- Eat plant sources of iron together with meats when possible as it also enhances absorption of non-heme iron.
- Avoid taking tea or coffee with meals as it contains substances that make absorbing iron difficult.
- Pulses (dry beans, lentils & peas) while rich in iron may contain substances (e.g. phytates) that hinder proper absorption of iron. To reduce presence of these substances, soak your pulses for 12 hours before cooking. Read more on how to get the most out of your pulses here.
- When buying foods in the market, choose those that are fortified. In Kenya, the Ministry of Health made it mandatory to fortify certain foods. For instance Wheat Flour and Maize Meal is fortified with iron and zinc. To make sure the food you’re buying is fortified always look for the fortification logo on the product’s packet.