Window office on the fifth floor of the building. Great view of the surrounding community. Natural sunlight brightening your everyday. This is the ideal situation for the average office worker. The only problem–conquering that flight of stairs to get to your utopia. Stairs are a challenge to all of us but if you find your climb feeling more and more like Everest every day, it may not be because your out of shape–it may be due to anemia.
What is anemia? It is characterized by low red blood cell concentration in the blood which makes the body less than efficient at delivering life sustaining oxygen to the body’s various components. It can be caused by a variety of factors but more often than not, it is due to a deficiency of iron in the diet. Iron is a difficult mineral to acquire in sufficient quantities as some forms are difficult for the body to absorb. Furthermore many of the foods that are present in our everyday diet block the absorbtion of iron. Here are some we can maximize our iron intake and avoid iron blockers to insure our body is capable of delivering life-sustaining oxygen.
First off we need to define the two main forms of iron. There is heme-iron and non heme-iron. These forms are determined by the source of iron. Heme-iron is animal sourced iron such as beef or chicken. This type of iron is absorbed far better than nonheme-iron. Nonheme- iron therefore is all other sources including eggs, vegetables, and fortified foods. The issue is neither of these sources are completely absorbable and hence we may think we are getting 100 percent of our daily value but in reality we are absorbing far less. Our bodies can only absorb between 2 and 10 percent of nonheme-iron if there is no interference and even with heme-iron we only stand to absorb at most 30 percent. So red meat, which is considered to be the best source of iron, at 25 percent per quarter pound, cannot satisfy our needs unless we have over three pounds a day!
There are some tricks we can play with iron however. Let me first say that you can in fact take in too much iron which can be fatal therefore insure beforehand that your levels are low before taking any drastic measure. Everyone’s bodies absorb and store iron differently therefore we all need different amounts. But if you are in need of boosting your levels there are many strategies you can pursue.
As far as boosting your absorption, acids such as asorbic acid, citric acid, and vitamin c can increase your absorbtion of nonheme sourced iron by 10 fold. This brings non meat sourced iron to the same level as meat sources. These acids however have no effect of the absorbability of heme-iron. An easy way to do this is to drink a glass of orange juice with a high iron meal.
Furthermore mixing iron sources can prove to be beneficial. Studies have shown that nonheme iron absorbs better when consumed at the same time as heme iron. Therefore if you have some spinach with your steak then they will benefit each other in your stomach.
There are many thinks you need to be wary of consuming at the same time as iron as they can interfere with it’s absorbtion. The biggest of them is calcium. Calcium is so engrained in our diets through dairy products that we have to be very aware in order to make sure we keep our iron and calcium separate. And yes, if your main source of iron is your morning cereal, chances are the milk is blocking out almost all of it.
There are other foods that block or limit absorbtion too. Egg yolkes contains a protein that binds with iron and makes it impossible for the body to absorb. The whites are fine to consume with iron though. Furthermore there are tannins in coffee and tea that interfere with absorbtion of iron. Even too much fiber can make it hard for your body to take in iron!
While I am not saying you can never pair these types of foods together it is helpful to be aware of what may be limiting your absorbtion so that you are not consistently pairing these foods. Iron is the lifeblood (literally) to our bodies everyday functions and if we run too short of it, those five flights of stairs may just seem like fifty.