My daughter with Crohn’s often has to battle anemia, and I occasionally have the same problem, like right now. My daughters were excited to jump on the natural healing train when they heard my recent anemia diagnosis, and they immediately began filling my tired self with molasses and homemade chocolate, because that’s what we do–heal ourselves with food.
For those of you interested in battling the debilitating exhaustion of anemia with food, I’ve got a reasonable list of fairly normal foods rich in iron.
Iron is present in both animal and plant foods, and it does make a difference which you consume. We’ll break them up into those two categories, because categories are fun. Whee!
Top Animal-Based Foods Rich in Iron
Animal sources contain heme iron which is highly absorbable at a rate of around 30%. You do not need to eat these foods in combination with anything else to improve absorption, although you may consider not simultaneously eating the iron absorption inhibitors conveniently listed at the end of this article.
- Organ meats
- Beef (your best bet)
- Lamb and pork
- Seafood (shellfish is significantly higher than fin fish)
- Eggs (chicken are the highest, but others rank well)
- Dairy does have some level of iron in it, but calcium is an inhibitor, so…there ya go.
I’m totally aware that I just listed all the normal available animal foods in the stores.
Top Plant-Based Foods Rich in Iron
Plant sources contain non-heme iron, which absorbs at a rate of about 5%. Not very impressive, is it? You can improve the absorption by eating these products in conjunction with a meat source (especially beef), vitamin C, and citric acid.1
- potatoes (leave the skin on)
- sesame seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- chickpeas (check out my favorite hummus recipe)
- dried fruit
- wheat flour
- these other grains
- cocoa, especially dark
The following foods often prevent or decrease the absorption of iron. Ironically, some of them are excellent sources of iron. Confusing, isn’t it? Kinda like wondering whether you should wash that red and white striped shirt with the whites or the darks. The best advice this non-medically-trained mama can give you is to avoid these foods during a high-iron meal, but not in general, since a well-rounded diet is your best friend (and you thought it was your dog).
- protein from the yolk and white of eggs (strangely, some people cure anemia by upping their yolk intake)
- cocoa (do not tell my girls–I’m enjoying the indulgence)
- phytic acid–this is a common mineral stripper found in the bran of grains, legumes, and other plants that can be reduced by soaking or fermenting.
- dairy because of the calcium
- magnesium, zinc, copper
- tannic acid found in tea
- peppermint or chamomile
- coffee–so don’t have a coffee with your porterhouse steak, ‘kay?
Why Not Just Take a Supplement?
While Hannah was prescribed a supplement and took it religiously while anemic so as not to further incite the wrath of her doctor who was not 100% on board with our dietary approach to healing, I do not. Here’s why:
- I already have to eat. Why not eat smarter!
- Iron supplements are notorious for causing constipation, which is something Crohnsies and pregnant women battle anyway–why make it worse?
- Supplements cost money–again, I’m already buying food.
- Many supplements are not very absorbable.
- Some of them are stinky–blech. (Okay, that doesn’t really stop me, but it might stop, say, your three-year-old.)
Check here for a more thorough list of iron-rich foods that takes considerably longer to read; optionally, go eat a steak.
What are your best tips for fighting anemia? A strong upper left hook?
That lame joke reminds me of a quote from one of my children: “Mommy, would you like some crackers to go with your jokes?” I do get pretty cheesy.