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  • Jen Dunlap

Foods to Treat Anemia

Animal foods contain heme iron, because the animal incorporated the iron into its body. This is the more absorbable form for us humans. Plants contain non-heme or "elemental" iron, which is absorbed better in the presence of heme iron. Iron is also absorbed better with Vitamin C and the B vitamins, and poorly with calcium or phytates (anti-nutrients present in grains and seeds). Anecdotally, some people seem to be great absorbers of iron. These women sail through 8 pregnancies eating oatmeal for breakfast, bean burritos for lunch, and whatever for dinner, and never have a low reading. Maybe they cook in cast iron, maybe they have a gene mutation, maybe they're just lucky. Others have told me it took cutting out grains and dairy entirely to raise their iron levels, and the levels drop as soon as they go back to an ordinary diet. My guess is that just as some people are super-absorbers of iron, as in genetic hemochromatosis, others are genetically poor absorbers, we just don't have a name for it yet. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, and if they eat a good variety of meat, eggs, fruit, and vegetables, they don't have to cut out grains and dairy altogether. If you like liver or liverwurst, this is the densest food source of iron. Many people can raise their iron by taking iron capsules without fussing about the rest of their diet. You'll need to take 6-8 capsules per day to approximate an ounce of iron. I know that's a lot of capsules. Food-based supplements are bulkier but better absorbed and gentler on the digestion. If you don't like swallowing capsules, you can raise iron by eating eggs and meat every day, particularly red meat several times per week. I encourage moms trying to raise their iron to eat meat at every meal of the day if possible - eggs and sausage with breakfast, cold cuts or leftovers for lunch, and meat and potatoes for dinner - until they start to feel a lift in their energy. Along with this meat, eating vegetables, fruit, and beans fills out the rest of the meal, and provides some extra non-heme iron and other nutrients to absorb the heme iron.


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