Iron deficiency is the commonest cause of anaemia, although other dietary factors are also essential for the making of healthy red blood cells, namely amino acids, vitamins C, B6 and B12, folic acid, copper and cobalt. Vegans, those who eat no animal products at all, must be particularly careful to obtain a balance of amino acids and adequate amounts of vitamin B12.
The daily requirement of iron is about 1 mg. for adult men. For women of child-bearing age the requirement is approximately double. However, iron is not easily absorbed, and only about one eighth of the dietary intake is usually available to the body. This means that a man needs to consume about 12 mg. of iron and a woman about 24 mg. daily. In any conditions involving blood loss, intestinal disease or malabsorption, pregnancy, lactation and convalescence, the need is greater.
Iron is better absorbed from some foods than from others. Specifically, it is best absorbed from animal foods like liver, red meat and fish. In the presence of fructose (fruit sugar) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) the iron will form soluble complexes that are readily absorbed so it is good to eat fruit and or green vegetables with your iron-containing foods. In fact, nature often combines relatively high levels of iron with vitamin C as in the case of peppers, kale, broccoli and other dark green vegetables.
Absorption of iron is inhibited by the presence of phosphates, phytates and oxalates with which it forms insoluble complexes. These occur in eggs, spinach and unrefined cereals, especially whole wheat.
It is possible to get too much iron, especially if you take iron supplements. For this reason many multi-mineral formulas no longer include iron. You should only take an iron supplement if you have been specifically diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia or if you have been bleeding unusually heavily.
Below is a guideline for how to incorporate iron rich foods as well as vitamin C and B12 into your diet. This is the preferred way to get natural, readily assimilated iron into the body. It is strongly recommended that you eat organically grown food, and this is especially important if you are eating meat.
Apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon) and honey (1 teaspoon) in a cup of hot water, half a lemon squeezed in a glass of water, or a glass of pure fruit juice such as grape, apple, orange etc.
- Fresh or dried fruit especially apricots, prunes, figs, peaches, dates or raisins. Dried fruit can be soaked overnight in water or fruit juice and gently stewed for 5 minutes in the morning.
- Muesli with extra fruit and nuts, especially almonds. This, too, is best soaked overnight in fruit juice or water.
- Baked beans or mushrooms on wholewheat toast.
- Wholewheat toast spread with yeast extract e.g. Marmite.
- Porridge made from coarse oatmeal soaked overnight and sweetened with molasses.
- Large mixed salad, including especially the following: watercress, parsley, green onions, spinach, chives, radishes, carrot, beet, endive, chicory, celery, mixed sprouts, mushrooms, all green leaves and sea vegetables.
- Sardines, tuna, salmon or fatty fish, liver pate, mixed nuts especially almonds, any beans/pulses such as lentil pate or hummous.
- Wholewheat bread, brown rice, potatoes, millet, or buckwheat.
- Bean soup or stew flavored with yeast extract.
- Liver or other red meats at least once a week if not vegetarian or otherwise restricted.
- Fish especially tuna, trout, salmon and herring.
- Lentil, bean or nut savory.
- Broccoli, kale, chard, raw spinach, cabbage, leeks, green peas, broad beans, green beans and any other green vegetables.
- Range-fed chicken or turkey.
- Cranberry sauce and parsley sauce.
Desserts & Sweet Treats
- Dried fruits, as they are or soaked in water and stewed.
- Chocolate or carob.
- Nuts especially almonds (e.g.. as marzipan).
- Fresh or frozen black currants, raspberries or blueberries.
- Any fresh fruit.
- Sherry, red wine and fortified wines contain some iron.
- Avoid tea, coffee and cocoa because although they do contain iron the high tannin ontent prevents its absorption.
- Herbal teas are recommended, especially nettle.
- Fruit juices and water.
Food Sources of Iron
|Shellfish||10 – 40|
|Leafy greens||2 – 3|
Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B12
All sea vegetables such as kelp, hiziki, arame and nori. Miso (fermented soya bean paste), blue green algae, spirulina and chlorella. Red Star brand nutritional yeast flakes. Note also that in a healthy person the bowel flora will also manufacture B12. Strict vegans are recommended to have their B12 level checked by a simple blood test annually.