Imagine some classic food pairings: wine and cheese, fruit and nuts, steak and potatoes … iron and vitamin C? For a variety of people, including vegans and endurance athletes, getting enough iron can be a challenge. Even minor levels of iron deficiency can lead to impaired endurance, as well as fatigue, loss of concentration and decreased immune function. While animal-based sources of iron (red meat, poultry, egg yolks and shellfish) tend to be better absorbed than plant-based sources (dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, tofu, some grains and even spices), there are other factors that can improve or inhibit iron absorption.
Things That Inhibit Iron Absorption:
• Natural compounds in some foods called phytates and oxalates can inhibit absorption of minerals. They’re present in certain dark leafy greens (spinach and Swiss chard) and in some nuts and seeds (sesame). Interestingly, many of these foods tend to be extraordinarily rich in iron, maybe to combat the effect of the phytates and oxalates.
• Tannins found in tea, coffee or red wine
• Over-consumption of other minerals (zinc, calcium, manganese)
• Overuse of antacids
Things That Enhance Iron Absorption:
• Heme iron and meat protein factor (compounds found in animal sources only)
• Food sources of vitamin C
Here are some flavorful iron and vitamin C pairings:
Food Network Magazine’s Tofu and Eggplant Curry (above): To enhance the pairing, add in some bell peppers and a bunch of greens (mustard greens, turnip greens and/or collard greens)
Through his book and blog, Death of the Diet, Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS, empowers people to live the life they want by integrating healthy eating and physical activity habits into their daily routines. You can follow him on Twitter @JMachowskyRDFit.