Updated: Sep 19, 2020
In a recent radio interview on RED FM with Neil Prenderville, we were discussing the wonderful benefits of the vegan diet. This interview was prompted by an article in the Sun newspaper with the headline - Vegan is Poor Diet. Hearing this I had to set the record straight.
During the programme, I was told by a nutritionist, who was also giving her opinions, that iron from animal foods, Heme Iron, was more easily absorbed by the body than plants sources. For this reason, according to the nutritionist, meat was a better source of iron than vegetables.
I had read some time before that Heme Iron ( meat sourced iron) is actually very bad for our health, and I said so. But I did not have the facts at hand, so after the interview I went and did a bit more research.
Spinach a great source of Iron & Vitamin C
Findings from further research
I consulted various medical sources, ( scroll to the bottom for references) and it seems that the nutritionist was right, Heme Iron is more easily absorbed by the body.
Now there is a condition known as hemochromatosis. The body accumulates too much iron and this can lead to life-threatening conditions, such as liver disease, heart problems and diabetes. Somehow the body is not able to deal with the excess iron... all animal sourced.
Too much Iron, how does that happen?
Heme Iron, from meat or all animal products is easily absorbed by the body and because of this the quantity keeps building up. The body is not able to regulate or control this type of iron, it just keeps building up and slowly to toxicity levels depending on the amount of animals meat consumed.
Vegetables have Iron, because all iron we consume first come from plants ( vegetables ), it is the only way. Animals eat plants and build up iron in the body.
But what about vegetable sources of iron, can we get enough?
The wonderful thing about nutrients from plants is that the body is able to regulate the quantities it requires...as if we were designed to eat plants ( well, in fact we are ... but more on that in a future post).
When we eat plants we get iron and we never get too much. When the body does not need the iron, it is not absorbed, unfortunately it seems that with Heme Iron it is still absorbed even though not required.
Potatoes & baked beans ... double source of good iron!
The body's metabolism is very complex and absorption of nutrients requires many different elements to work together. Iron absorption is improved when Vitamin C is presents and I am sure other vitamins and minerals. Vegetables have most minerals and vitamins in them though some in higher quantities than others.
Spinach is a good source of Iron and it is also a good source of vitamin C.
In a very important study undertaken by Chinese and American scientists, the main theme of the book, The China Study, has shown that people on primarily plant-based foods, consume more iron. They believe that dietary fibre has something to do with it, unfortunately, animal flesh / meat has zero fibre.
What to do?
If you have too much iron, why not just reduce or eliminate all animal products in your diet for say, one month ( I think it takes approx 3 weeks for the body to adjust to these differences ) ... then see or get tested for iron levels.
The real proof will be how one's body reacts. Every body is unique and reacts differently to different foods.
If you have too little iron, why not increase you consumption of vegetable sources and eat a variety of foods ( i.e. with vitamin C ) so that the body can absorb the iron you need.
Good sources of Iron
Most plants have iron. Some have larger quantities. Pick out the vegetables you prefer and eat lots of them:
- Green leafy greens - Spinach, Kale, lettuce, Swiss chard ... collard greens
EAT GREENS EVERY DAY ( WELL MOST DAYS ), SNEAK IN A BIT OF SPINACH IN YOUR SANDWICH OR STEW
- Legumes - beans such as chickpeas, soya beans, lentils
EAT CHILLI WITH BEANS, OR BAKED BEANS ON TOAST
EAT CHICKPEAS, I LOVE CHANA MASALA
- Seeds & Nuts - cashews, chia seeds, linseed, hemp seed, pumpkin seeds
HAVE A BAG OF NUTS IN THE CAR, WHEN PECKISH, EAT THEM.
LOVELY GROUND ON TOP OF PORRIDGE
- Dried fruit - apricots, figs and raisins
RAISINS AND PEANUTS, THEY GO SO WELL TOGETHER.
- Cereals - whole brown rice, wheat, quinoa and others.
IF YOU LIKE RICE, EAT BROWN RICE - MORE FIBRE, MORE IRON
- Potatoes - any type you like
IF YOU CAN EAT THE COMPLETE POTATO, SKINS AND ALL, IT IS BETTER FOR IRON
Also mushrooms ... the list is endless !
So just eat your veggies and lots of them !
... so no worries, eat plenty of these and you should have no Iron problems.
Scientific references & sources
Heme Iron ...
Dr. Greger - Nutritionalfacts.org
Dr. Barnard - pcrm.org
Dr. Klaper - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s12FnHm9sw