Iron deficiency and plant-based diets

the_flexi_foodie3When it comes to eating healthy, a plant-based diet, with little or no animal products, can reduce your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. It can also lower your risk of cancer.

There are many types of plant-based diets, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t know all of them. You’re not alone.

Plant-based diets can be total or semi-vegetarian. Vegans are total vegetarians. Semi-vegetarians don’t eat red meat but include chicken and fish with plant foods, dairy products and eggs. Pescatarians eat a plant-based diet with fish. Flexitarians are the occasional meat eaters.

The most common plant-based diets are:

  • vegan: no animal products such as meat, eggs or dairy
  • lacto-vegetarian: includes dairy products but no meat and no eggs
  • lacto-ovo-vegetarian: includes dairy products and eggs but no meat

What about iron deficiency anemia

Our bodies can better absorb heme iron found in meat than the non-heme iron found in plant sources. Vegetarians are at high risk of iron-deficiency anemia. However, red meat isn’t the only iron-rich source, says Lauren Schmitt, registered dietician.

If your diet is plant-based, you need to cook in a carefully planned way to obtain the essential nutrients. To prevent iron deficiency anemia, you should combine non-heme foods (plant foods high in iron) with foods that are high in Vitamin C. Pairing foods this way will enhance the absorption of iron in your body. As Schmitt points out, it’s healthier to get your iron from food sources instead of pills.

Food examples

Examples of non-heme foods are dark-leafy greens (spinach, romaine, kale), lentils, kidney beans and other legumes, dried fruits and iron-fortified foods, like tofu and cereals. Foods high in Vitamin C are peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, citrus fruits, berries and brocoli.

To obtain sufficient iron levels, lace your spinach or romaine salads with orange wedges. In colder months, a vegetarian chili dish with chili pepper (or red pepper if too hot), tomatoes*, beans and lentils served with brown rice is a complete meal and it will give you the iron that you need.

* When you buy preserved tomatoes, choose the ones stored in a glass container as opposed to a metal or aluminum container. They are better for your health.

Here’s a delicious “Three Bean Chili” recipe by Julie Montagu. Julie is certified in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University and her recipes are original, delicious and healthy. Julie is also a yoga instructor and a holistic health counselor. For great recipe ideas, I invite you to visit Julie’s site at: . Enjoy!

Three Bean Chili

By Julie Montagu

With the cold weather setting in here in London, there’s no better way to warm yourself up at the end of the day than with a wholesome meal. Serving up a bowl of my chilli to your family as they come home from their days is a great way to get them smiling and nourished at the same time! To make enough for a family of four, find the following ingredients:

  • 2 medium red onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 medium leek, chopped
  • 1 red chili pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 125g of green lentils
  • 1 400g can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 400g can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 litre of veg stock
  • 3 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin
  • 2 tablespoons of coriander
  • 2 tablespoons of dried oregano
  • Himalayan sea salt

Before you get started, make sure you have peeled and chopped all of the ingredients as specified. Then take your coconut oil and heat it in a large pan for a few moments before you add in the onions, garlic, leek and chilli. Continue on a medium heat for approximately five minutes. After these five minutes you can add in the oregano, coriander and cumin. Fry for a further two minutes, adding in a few tablespoons of water if you feel it’s needed.

The next step is to add in the two cans of chopped tomatoes as well as the kidney beans, black beans and the lentils. Give this all a quick stir and then pour the litre of veg stock into the pan too. Bring your pan to the boil and then lower the heat to allow your chilli to simmer for approximately one hour. Be sure to remember to stir the pan every fifteen minutes. Once your hour is up, your chilli is ready to be served into four bowls. My kids love to have theirs with a chunk of wholemeal bread on top that soaks up the delicious juicy flavour as you eat! This chilli will last a few days in the fridge when kept in an airtight container so it’s a great dish to make a huge batch of for keeping for another day.

Photo courtesy of: Julie Montagu
Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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