As all Popeye fans know, whenever the sailor needs some extra strength, he simply downs a tin of spinach and instantly grows bulging biceps. That cartoon made even me eat this greasy, slimy veg that my mum used to put on my plate! Interestingly, at the end of 19th century, a German chemist Erich von Wolf correctly ascertained the amount of iron in spinach, but then, the poor man accidentally misplaced a decimal point: instead of recording that spinach had 3.5 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, he wrote that it had 35 milligrams. An here we have a fantastic but misleading cartoon boosting spinach-growing industry.
Today, many people around the world are iron deficient. Funny enough, back in Palaeolithic time, iron deficiency was probably uncommon as people used to eat animal muscle tissue, plants and lots of vit C (alas you probably would have been eaten by some wild animal at the age of 30 anyway). Too little iron can impair body functions, but most physical signs and symptoms do not show up unless iron deficiency (anaemia) occurs. Iron deficiency will make you feeling tired and weak, your performance will decrease and you will feel absolutely knackered at the end of the day. Maintaining body temperature will be an issue and your immune system will slow down so you will be catching every possible infection. But you can improve your iron status by changing your diet.
What you need to know about iron is that the foods with high iron content aren’t necessarily the best sources of iron. By weight, soybeans have roughly twice the iron as beef. But only about 7% of the iron in soybeans is absorbed. Spinach, as we already know, is also high in iron, but less than 2% of the iron in cooked spinach is absorbed.
We have got two types of iron:
- Heme iron is the most absorbed form of iron, and it’s found in shellfish, red meat, poultry, and fish. This one is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than iron from plants.
- Nonheme iron is found in plant foods, as well as in eggs, milk, and some meat. This one can be literally carried through the digestive tract unabsorbed (I know it sounds ugly, but this is one of the reasons why mom elephant would stick poop into it’s son’s mouth…I still love elephants, I really do:)
You can enhance iron absorption by adding vitamin C when eaten at the same meal.
If you are taking supplements or trying to increase your iron intake you should definitely avoid:
- drinking tea, wine or fizzy drinks within 30 - 45min of taking iron supplements or eating your iron based foods. So no diet-coke ladies!
- leave 30 - 45min between the consumption of iron and milk (e.g. in cereal) and other diary products. Phytates in cereal can also inhibit iron absorption.
Those of you who are currently really struggling with iron or are pregnant I would encourage to make bone broth (use good quality meat and slow cooker, cook for at least 5h), alternatively if meat is not part of your diet, then smoothies are a great idea too: just mix spinach, nuts (esp. sesame, pumpkin, almonds), avocado, orange maybe strawberry and kiwi. I also recommend using this superfood powder: Green Superfood All Natural Drink Powder. Just add a spoon of this powder to your smoothie and in a few weeks you will notice that your hair and nails look so much better.