Alexa is working toward a vegetarian diet, and is loaded with questions. Jennifer’s got answers. We talk about anything as long as it is vegan. Are tattoos vegan? How do I politely not eat Thanksgiving dinner? How do I order without pissing off the waitress? We know you are dying to ask!

asksalexaNow that I started pumping iron, should I start worrying about where I get iron?

Somehow in our mental psyche we imagine iron intake with strength and manliness. I mean weak women are prone to being iron anemic right? Well, lets start with why we need iron in our body. Our bodies take the iron we eat to create hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen to our body. Not enough iron means that our body isn’t making enough hemoglobin, which means we can make enough red blood cells, which means our muscles are deprived of oxygen. 

So how much iron do you need? It varies with age, but the average adult male needs 8mg of iron, while a woman needs 18mg of iron. Why the extra load? Well, remember we need iron for our blood, and what happens each month? Menstruation. Yup, once a month we loose blood. But does that mean we still need to get 18mg each day that we don’t have our periods? Iron takes awhile to build up again in our system, so lets say your donate blood, it might take awhile to rebuild the iron again and would show in blood work a week later.

I like to use CRON-O-Meter a few random weeks during the year to try and check my dietary intake. I usually find that reaching that 18mg of iron is actually easy. Sometimes you need to try and focus on it, but it is more like what you eat are drops in the bucket. For example I got most of my iron from white beans from my lunch, but I also got iron from kale, spirulina, oats, and soymilk. Heck, I even got 6% of my iron from peaches (I ate three, so uh.. not sure if that is normal)

So what about this iron rich beef I keep hearing about? It is known in pop-science that beef is great for anemics. Right? Not really. This myth probably comes from two ideas. One is that liver is very high in iron. Each animal has varying amounts of iron in their liver, and apparently duck liver has the most iron. When comparing meats to each other, beef has more iron compared to chicken and pork. But compared to high iron vegan sources, beef isn’t that impressive. Three ounces of cooked beef has about 200 calories and 12% of your iron requirements, while half a cup of tofu has about 100 calories 35% of your iron requirements!

But there is something beef has over tofu- heme iron. Basically when animals consume iron, they start to process it for themselves to help with oxidizing their blood. When we eat animals were are eating half-processed iron, making it easy for our body to absorb. There is some evidence that heme iron may be bad for us, but like most nutritional science, it is hard to figure out if those bad things are from meats, or the heme iron. If you are concerned if the iron is being absorbed, you can try and increase absorption by eating a lot of vitamin C with your iron. Calcium and caffeine can hinder iron absorption, though I figure these can be hard to avoid pairing with foods. And my favorite suggestion is try cooking your food in iron pots, because the iron can leech into your food!

So should you supplement iron in your diet? I would say no unless you have an iron deficiency. Also keep in mind how often you donate blood, because that will effect your iron levels. But once you get your iron levels up, you can easily get the daily recommendations! I find adding a teaspoon of spirulina in my morning smoothie gives a nice boost to my iron intake. But for the most part, most foods have iron in it, and all those foods add up. It is also easier since many grain products have supplemented iron in them. For example oats have iron added to it, and does most wheat products. Try eating various greens, spirulina, tofu, beans, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, lentils, peas, blackstrap molasses, and tomato paste. And shit- there is even a fair about iron in CHOCOLATE! Even more in cacao!

Want some recipes for iron rich foods? Well here are few savory and sweet.

Lentil, Tempeh, and Sweet Potato Chili – If you ate a quarter of this dish (which is a lot) you will have consumed about 40% of the iron your need in your day. Not bad.

Spinach and Coconut Dal – This recipe mixed spinach and lentils to make a protein rich dish. You will be getting a quarter of your iron intake from a quarter of this dish.

Pinto Bean Mole Chili – This dish mixes beans and chocolate together with vitamin C rich foods. Making it great for iron absorption!

Beet and Carrot Juice – Freshly made juices are a great way to add iron to the diet, making it easy to eat lots of veggies and fruit in one sip.

Spinach Dal – Okay I’ve been listing a lot of lentil dishes, but this one features lots and lots of spinach, leaving a bright green goop!

Green Iron Smoothie – Alyssa talks about her method of adding the small amount of iron to equal a lot of iron. So her Green Iron Smoothie has 61% of the iron in a day! Holy cow!