Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day 21: Iron, Pump it or Eat it?

Arnold "Austrian Oak" Schwarzenegger
Amber has been
taking her tips
from the Hamburgler!

Iron: Pump it or Eat it? Why not both? However, a plant based diet can be problematic, especially for women, in regards to iron. So I decided to search out some plant sources of iron, specifically for my wife, so she doesn't have to resort to sneaking burgers when I'm not around to cook for her.

Matt Ruscigno brought it to my attention via the Rich Roll podcast, and he also has a great guest writing article on Matt Frasier's No Meat Athlete page about iron that I suggest reading in full. According to Matt, some of the best plant based foods for iron are:

  • Legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans 
  • Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal 
  • Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, squash, pine, pistacio, sunflower, cashews, unhulled sesame 
  • Vegetables: tomato sauce, swiss chard, collard greens 
  • Other: blackstrap molasses, prune juice 

Care2.com agrees and has some specifics and great tips:

Pretty Lentils
Males Iron Requirements
• 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
• 14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
• Age 19 and older: 8 mg/day

Females Iron Requirements
• 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
• 14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
• 19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
• 51 and older: 8 mg/day

Non-animal iron sources:
Eating red meat and organ meat are the most efficient ways to get iron, but for vegans, obviously, that’s not going to happen. Here are 12 plant-based foods with some of the highest iron levels:
  • Spirulina (1 tsp): 5 mg
  • Cooked soybeans (1/2 cup): 4.4 mg
  • Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce): 4.2 mg
  • Quinoa (4 ounces): 4 mg
  • Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp): 4 mg
  • Tomato paste (4 ounces): 3.9 mg
  • White beans (1/2 cup) 3.9 mg
  • Cooked spinach (1/2 cup): 3.2 mg
  • Dried peaches (6 halves): 3.1 mg
  • Prune juice (8 ounces): 3 mg
  • Lentils (4 ounces): 3 mg

Tips to get the most iron out of your food:
  • Eat iron-rich foods along with foods that contain vitamin C, which helps the body absorb the iron.
  • Tea and coffee contains compounds called polyphenols, which can bind with iron making it harder for our bodies to absorb it.
  • Calcium also hinders the absorption of iron; avoid high-calcium foods for a half hour before or after eating iron-rich foods.
  • Cook in iron pots. The acid in foods seems to pull some of the iron out of the cast-iron pots. Simmering acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, in an iron pot can increase the iron content of the brew more than ten-fold. Cooking foods containing other acids, such as vinegar, red wine, lemon or lime juice, in an iron pot can also increase the iron content of the final mixture.

Armed with all of this info, I'm sure you'll be seeing some iron fortified meals/recipes coming your way (like this Indian Lentil Soup). And while you're eating it, why not hit the weights and pump it too? Men's Health has a nice article on why it's important to lift weights, especially as we age. 


  1. If Iron is really a concern down the road and Amber isn't getting what she needs from foods, consider Slow Fe, an iron supplement. When I was pregnant with both girls I had to take it, by doctors' orders. I took it first thing each morning with a glass of orange juice (the non-calcium fortified kind) and then didn't eat for 1/2 hour. Worked wonders for me.

  2. Thanks Sarah, did they ever give you an upset stomach?