>Though I realize that not everyone in this world is as nutritionally aware as I am, I cringe on the inside when I hear someone (especially a health care professional) suggest a side of beef to people who need more iron in their diet. Cringe.
Maybe no one has ever told these people that there are healthier alternatives than flesh from an animal that, although it does contain some iron, also contains saturated fat, cholesterol, excessive calories, high amounts of sodium, and could contribute to the spread of cancerous cells and heart disease. Excessive meat in the diet also leaches calcium from our bones, when one does not have enough calcium in their diet. (That’s a blog subject for another day.)
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. The iron found in meat, poultry, and fish is the heme form. The human body easily absorbs heme iron. Actually, a diet containing meat increases the amount of iron that you absorb from plant foods as well. However, iron is a strong oxidant that changes cholesterol to a form that is more readily absorbed by the arteries, leading to hardening of the arteries, or coronary artery disease. Thus, a cholesterol-laden steak dinner could be doing more harm than good.
The form of iron found in plant foods is called nonheme iron. Nonheme iron is absorbed less efficiently than heme iron, but the foods that contain nonheme iron also contain other nutrients that may help your body absorb iron better, and allows you to get iron in your diet without also adding saturated fat and the other negative side effects I mentioned two paragraphs ago.
My long-winded point? Red meat is not the best source of iron. In fact, for the general population it’s not really a good source at all. So what do vegetarians eat to keep their diet iron efficient?
Spinach is considered to be a rich source of iron. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (the USDA is also a blog subject for another day) states that a 180 g serving of boiled spinach contains 6.43 mg of iron, whereas one 170 g ground hamburger (cow) patty contains at most 4.42 mg. I love that this fact comes from the USDA, promoter of all things beef. Spinach also has a high calcium content, which makes it an iron superfood, since calcium helps our bodies better absorb iron.
Other Great Vegetarian Sources of Iron:
- Dark green leafy vegetables (ex: broccoli,kale, spinach, collard greens)
- Some dried fruits (ex: apricots, cantaloupe, prunes, raisins)
- Nuts and seeds (peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seeds)
- Legumes (black beans, lentils, tempeh, tofu, soybeans)
- Whole or enriched/fortified breads & cereals (be mindful of sugar content)
So next time you donate blood, visit your physician, or hear someone talking about how great red meat is for your body, you can help spread the vegetarian gospel and educate them otherwise. They may just not know.
Thanks to Being Vegetarian for Dummies for the details provided for sources of iron and paragraphs 3 & 4.