Iron is vital to life. Every cell in the human body contains iron. Oxygenation of tissues and cells is accomplished by iron contained in red blood cells which carry oxygenated blood throughout the body and pick up carbon dioxide to be excreted. The human body uses iron to enhance immune system functioning, produce energy and increase oxygen distribution throughout the organ systems.
Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin (Hb). Insufficient Hb, resulting in insufficient oxygen supply to the body, and generally known as anemia. In order to avoid anemia, vegans need to take daily care to find edible sources of iron, Vitamin C, and copper. Vitamin C can increase the iron absorption from foods by two times. An adequate copper level in the blood is critical to the transport of iron throughout the body.
Signs of needing more iron include lowered resistance to infections, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, brittle nails, a sense of apathy and feelings of depression. Increased iron intake through natural foods is key to preventing these low iron symptoms. The body needs to maintain about four grams of iron to function well.
How much iron do we need?
Iron is available in two forms, heme-iron and nonheme-iron. Heme-iron is contained in animal flesh. For those of us who choose a vegan life style, nonheme-iron, found in plants is what we need.
The RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) for adults is 8.7 mg daily average. For menstruating women it’s set at 14.8 mg. But bear in mind that figure is set with the average woman (on a standard cooked diet) in mind. It will not apply to the majority of all-raw women, who generally bleed far less than the average.
Can iron be stored?
Yes, which means that we don’t need to concern ourselves with iron intake within any one day.
Can we have too much iron?
Yes. High levels of iron in the blood have been linked with cancer and heart attacks. And high doses of iron supplements have been linked with constipation, vomiting and diarrhea, and can be fatal.
RAW VEGAN SOURCES OF IRON
The following raw vegan food groups tend to be particularly high in iron: seeds, nuts, dried fruit, dark green leaves.
Here are just a few examples of foods high in iron, and I’ve been realistic on serving sizes. For example, you will often hear people say that parsley is high in iron. Well, yes it is, per 100g. But parsley is so light in weight that you’d have to eat five packs for it to make it onto the list below.
Pumpkin seeds, 1/2 cup, 10 mg iron
Dried apricots/peaches, 100g, 6 mg
Cashews, 1/2 cup, 5 mg
Pine kernels, 1/2 cup, 4 mg
Sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup, 4 mg
Almonds, 1/2 cup, 3 mg
Spinach, 100g, 3 mg
Sea veg (generally), 100g, 2-3 mg
Kale, 100g, 2 mg
Walnuts, 1/2 cup, 2 mg
Sprouted lentils, 1/2 cup, 2 mg
(Source: USDA Nutrient Database)
There are many other options for increasing daily iron intake like string beans, turnip and mustard greens, shiitake mushrooms, romaine lettuce, tofu and blackstrap molasses. Not quite as high in iron but still beneficial are asparagus, broccoli, chick peas, leeks, lentils, brussel sprouts.
Raw fooders who eat at least some of the foods on this list regularly should have no problem in making the RNI of 8 grams, as most of the other foods eaten in a week will also be contributing to iron requirements.
Remember that cooking reduces nutrient levels including iron. Raw harvests must be carefully cleaned and it’s important to avoid harvesting in areas where pesticides are in use. The more iron-rich foods that you eat in an uncooked state, the better your iron level will be.
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