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Iron-rich plant-based foods: which to choose and how to cook them

Which iron-rich plant-based foods can we choose from to consume this mineral in adequate amounts? And how should vegetables be cooked to preserve the amount of iron they contain? In this in-depth study, we discover how to taken in iron with plant-based foods.

Which iron-rich plant-based foods can we consume?

Before we find out which iron-rich plant-based foods we can consume, we need to know that not all the iron consumed through diet is absorbed in the same way by the body. In food, in fact, iron is present in two different forms: haem iron and non-haemiron. Haem Iron derives from the haemoglobin and myoglobin present in blood and muscle respectively and is therefore the typical iron of animal-based food. Non-haem iron, which will be the subject of this study, is characteristic of iron-rich plant-based foods

Iron-rich plant-based foods particularly include the following:

  • Legumes, especially dried legumes such as beans and chickpeas;
  • Fruit, especially nuts (cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pecans), apricots, peaches and dried or dehydrated plums.
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Oat flakes
  • Soya flour
  • Green leafy vegetables (watercress, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, endive)

Non-haem iron contained in plant-based food is more difficult for the body to absorb than haem iron for two reasons: 

  1. unlike haem iron, there are no specific sites that regulate its direct absorption by cells. In the intestinal environment, inorganic iron is found in the form of trivalent iron. Our organism absorbs trivalent iron (Fe3+) only after having reduced it to bivalent iron (Fe2+), thanks to the action of duodenal cytochrome B. 
  1. It is less protected from any substances that inhibit its absorption (such as phytates, oxalates and tannins contained in some foods). Spinach, despite its high iron content, is not considered amongst iron-rich plant-based rich because it also contains oxalates and phytates which bind the iron and prevent its proper intestinal absorption. On the contrary, some foods such as kiwis, despite containing a moderate amount of iron, are good plant sources of this nutrient because they are rich in vitamin C, a substance that facilitates the absorption of iron.

Therefore, in addition to iron-rich plant-based foods, we should also include plant-based foods rich in vitamin C, such as kiwis – already mentioned above –pineapple, strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, peppers and berries

Iron-rich plant-based foods: how to cook them

In general, in order to preserve the nutrients present in plant-based foods, it is important to consume raw or steamed vegetables. Green leafy vegetables, in particular, should be consumed raw in order to maximise the absorption of essential nutrients useful for combating any iron deficiency (iron itself, folic acid, vitamin C, B vitamins). 

It is also important to avoid taking iron-rich plant-based foods in combination with foods that contain significant amounts of phytate (grains), oxalates (certain vegetables, such as spinach), tannins (tea, coffee, wine and chocolate) and calcium (milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products). Phytates, oxalates, tannins and calcium are the most common inhibitors of non-haem iron absorption in the intestinal.

How do you combat iron deficiency with food?

Under normal health conditions, a varied and balanced diet is sufficient to maintain normal body iron levels. However, certain physiological conditions (menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, growth in children) or pathological conditions (diseases that decrease iron absorption) may lead to conditions of deficiency or increased bodily iron requirements. 
To combat any iron deficiency or in the event of increased need of this nutrient, a food supplement of the SiderAL® range containing Sucrosomial® Iron can be useful. Sucrosomial® Iron, compared with the traditional iron present in other supplements, is more easily absorbed by the intestine, thus minimising the most common side effects (sense of heaviness in the stomach, discolouration of teeth and oral mucosa, gastrointestinal irritation) and is also a good iron from a taste point of view, because there is no metallic taste typical of iron administered orally.

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