What do I Eat?
Wondering where I get my iron? I get it from food! To be more specific, I’m talking about beans, lentils, potatoes, tofu, molasses, potatoes (oh did I say that already?), quinoa, tahini, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, etc.
Yet my favorite source by far is chocolate! The Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bars contain 35% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) in a single serving. Overachievers! Eating one of those chocolate bars a day provides me 1/3 of what I need. I will neither confirm nor deny that I sometimes eat two bars a day… leaving just 30% to find in all the other sources, which is cake. Incidentally, cake also contains iron (it’s in flour, baking powder, etc.). Note: I’m not encouraging anyone to eat two chocolate bars a day. They are high in sugar, so that would be terrible advice.
Your body absorbs iron better when it’s eaten with vitamin C. I love eating chocolate with red wine. I like to believe wine contains vitamin C (okay, you’re right… it doesn’t, but it does contain iron). Good thing strawberries, which are full of vitamin C, are also a perfect complement to chocolate!
Pairing Iron Rich and Vitamin C Rich Foods
Perhaps I’m focusing too much on chocolate (I can’t help it). Here are a few other combinations of iron and vitamin C that you might want to try:
- Veggies such as broccoli (which are an excellent source of vitamin C and even contain 3% RDA of iron in one cup) are naturally eaten with foods such as quinoa, legumes, beans, and tofu.
- Pancakes contain iron… strawberries contain vitamin C. Need I say more? Okay, I will. Strawberries also contain a bit of iron! If you’re a fan of pumpkin, try pumpkin pancakes with apple slices. Alternatively, if you’re feeling like a nutritional superstar, try some quinoa blueberry pancakes.
- Hummus, which generally contains both chickpeas and tahini (both sources of iron) goes great with veggies, such as cauliflower. One cup of cauliflower packs 85% of your recommended vitamin C… and you guessed it – they also contain 2% of the RDA of iron. Noticing a trend?
- Potatoes have a bad reputation but it’s not their fault. The way we prepare and dress them is what makes them unhealthy. They’re actually nutritional powerhouses. One potato contains 70% of the RDA of vitamin C and 9% iron. That means you don’t even need to complement a potato; it’s already a terrific source of both (not to mention 8% protein, 18% fiber, etc… but that’s beside the point). Simply leave off the unhealthy toppings. Potatoes can also be interesting topped in a health manner. For example try a baked potato with broccoli, a light sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt, and some nutritional yeast.
- An ounce of walnuts makes a great snack and has a million health benefits (an unofficial estimate). They contain 4% of the RDA of iron. But why eat walnuts alone when you can eat them with a handful of blueberries (24% vitamin C in a cup)? Another great option for walnuts is to sprinkle them over salads.
- Speaking of nuts over salads (which I am)… almonds contain 6% of iron in an ounce and are terrific sprinkled over salads. Veggies are full of vitamin C so you can’t go wrong by choosing your favorite variety.
- A 1/2 cup serving of oatmeal (dry) packs about 7% of the RDA of iron. Toss in some sliced strawberries, blueberries, and chia seeds to start your day off right. Prefer a little more sweetness? Try roasted strawberries over your oatmeal.
- I can’t resist ending this list by mentioning chocolate once more. Though chocolate bars contain sugar and should be eaten in moderation, there is nothing stopping you from incorporating raw cacao powder into your daily regimen. Raw cacao powder is completely free of sugar and truly my favorite super food. I have even stirred it into unsweetened almond milk and drank it as is… no sugar added. But perhaps that’s a little too bitter for most people. Using a bit of fruit in a smoothie will add just enough sweetness to counter cacao’s bitter nature.
One Last Tip: Seeds
Hopefully these ideas help get you thinking of ways to combine iron and vitamin C foods together. You’re likely already doing it without thinking about it. Another way I incorporate iron into my diet is by keeping a mixture of chia seeds, hemp seeds, and ground flax seeds in my fridge and sprinkling it on nearly everything I eat. Not only does this seed blend contain iron, but it’s a terrific source of omega 3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, magnesium, and calcium. These seeds don’t have much of a flavor so you can mix them into pancakes, smoothies, top your baked potatoes with them, sprinkle over salads, oatmeal, and stir-fries… they really go well just about anywhere you can imagine.
Daily Iron Needs
Depending on your age and stage of life (assuming you’re not a newborn), you need anywhere between 7mg a day to 27mg a day of iron (pregnant women require the most). Eating a variety of mostly whole foods will help you meet your needs without much thought. Check out your individual requirements in Table 1 at this National Institutes of Health page.