5 dishes with iron to share with your clients
Iron is essential for bodily functions and maintaining health; however, many people suffer from iron deficiency anemia. Here are five dishes with iron to share with your clients to help prevent and treat anemia.
Has your nutrition client been complaining about fatigue, brain fog, and headaches? If so, you may want to run a check on their iron levels. Iron is an essential mineral that is vital for many bodily functions, yet despite its importance, deficiency is prevalent and is the most prevalent cause of anemia worldwide.
As a dietitian, you can help your nutrition clients improve their iron levels and avoid iron deficiency anemia by providing an iron-rich meal plan that helps meet their individual needs. However, this may be easier said than done, especially since there are many factors to consider when boosting iron stores.
Before sharing 5 dishes with iron to give to your clients, let’s first understand why iron is important, who is at risk for a deficiency, and what foods impact absorption.
Why is iron so important?
The functional role of iron is to transport oxygen in the bloodstream via red blood cells to the lungs and tissues. Iron is important for physical growth, muscle metabolism, healthy connective tissue, neurological development, cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones.
Heme and non-heme are the two primary forms of dietary iron. Heme iron is the most bioavailable form of iron and is found in animal foods like beef, pork, chicken, veal, fish, shellfish, and red meats. Conversely, non-heme iron is much less well absorbed than heme iron and is only found in plants.
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How much iron do we need?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron varies greatly depending on gender, age, medical conditions, and eating preferences. The RDA for adults is as follows:
- Women 19 to 50 years old: 18 mg
- Women 51 years old and above: 8 mg
- Pregnant and lactating women: 27 mg and 9 mg, respectively
- Men and non-menstruating women: 8 mg
- Vegetarians: 1.8 times the RDA to compensate for reduced iron absorption.
What is iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency, or iron deficiency anemia, is a lack of red blood cells due to inadequate iron intake in the diet. Some symptoms can include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, headaches, dizziness, brittle nails, pale skin, and cold hands and feet.
You can diagnose iron deficiency with a blood test that measures levels of hemoglobin, hematocrit, and ferritin (a blood protein that contains iron). However, emerging research suggests that copper levels can also be an indicator of iron deficiency.
Copper is a mineral that has been linked to iron metabolism, as it helps attach iron to hemoglobin and loads ferritin with iron. When copper levels are low, the body may absorb less iron, which can lead to an iron deficiency over time. Interestingly, experts have suggested that iron deficiency may actually be a copper deficiency, and should be treated as such.
Who is at risk of iron deficiency anemia?
- Infants and young children
- Pregnant women
- Women with heavy menstrual bleeding
- Frequent blood donors
- People with cancer, GI disorders, or heart failure
The best 10 foods to prevent anemia
Here are some of the best sources of iron to prevent anemia:
- Kidney beans and lentils
- Cashews and pistachios
Research also shows that pairing a good source of iron with vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, kiwis, lemons, bell peppers, and strawberries may improve iron absorption by 67%.
Furthermore, you can increase iron absorption by adding copper-rich foods to your client’s meal plan. Some examples include shellfish, liver, fatty fish, oysters, spirulina, shiitake mushrooms, lobster, and dark chocolate.
Foods that inhibit iron absorption
While there are many factors to consider when boosting iron levels, there are certain dietary sources that can cause more harm than good. Here are some foods that might inhibit iron absorption.
- Phytates. Plant-based foods like grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain phytic acid, which can inhibit iron absorption.
- Calcium. Studies have found that calcium can inhibit iron absorption. To help prevent this, you can encourage your clients to not consume calcium-rich foods with high-iron meals.
- Polyphenols. Research shows that polyphenols found in coffee, tea, red wine, and cocoa can significantly reduce iron absorption.
5 iron-rich meals to share with your clients
You can help your clients boost their iron stores by suggesting a variety of iron-rich meals. While including a variety of iron, copper, and vitamin C foods are recommended, you can also throw in some iron-rich meals that can benefit your clients all day long. Here are 5 dishes with iron to share with your clients.
- Iron-rich breakfast: Switch up your client’s breakfast routine with this recipe for oatmeal with dried fruits and nuts. This recipe is a good source of non-heme iron, and thanks to the high fiber content, it will keep your client feeling full until lunch.
- Iron-rich salad or snack: This quinoa tabbouleh salad recipe is a gluten-free option that increases satiety and boosts iron levels. Try it out for a lunch or snack!
- Iron-rich soup: If your clients love soup, then have them give this soup recipe a try. Lentils are a good source of non-heme iron, and since it’s mixed with carrots, iron absorption won’t be inhibited.
- Iron-rich recipe for lunch and dinner: Beef is one of the best ways to boost iron, so have your meat-loving clients try out this recipe for Scallion-Ginger Beef & Broccoli.
- Iron-rich vegetarian recipe: If your client is more into vegetarian options, have them give this lentil bolognese a try.
Iron is essential for healthy red blood cells, as well as for growth, muscle metabolism, healthy connective tissue, neurological development, cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones.
Certain populations are at risk for iron deficiency anemia, but this is a reversible condition. You can help your clients prevent and overcome this by creating a meal plan that is rich in iron, copper, and vitamin C. You can also suggest 5 dishes with iron to further boost their levels.
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