Guest contributor: Warwick Millard (Graduate Dietitian, Personal Trainer & Meat Free Week Volunteer).
This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but a common concern that presents itself when people undertake a meat-free diet for a long duration is the increased risk of iron deficiency and anaemia.
Which can be due to inadequate intake and other physiological issues such as poor absorption. Further, iron deficiency is more common in females due to their menstrual cycle.
Firstly, it’s important to understand the role iron plays in the human body.
Iron is important in the functioning of all cells in our body. However, the main role of iron is enabling red blood cells to transfer oxygen throughout your body. Iron also plays an important part in our immune function, brain function and muscular strength. Iron deficiency commonly presents itself in the form of fatigue, poor concentration and reduced immunity.
So how can you ensure you’re getting enough iron in your diet during Meat Free Week? Here’s some quick tips to including enough iron in a meat-free diet, if you wish to continue the lifestyle.
+ Up Vitamin C intake with your meals
The consumption of foods rich in Vitamin C have been shown to increase the availability and absorption of iron from plant-based food sources. It is recommended that people consuming a meat free diet aim to consume the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 45mg of Vitamin C daily to aid in iron absorption. A medium sized orange can contain up to 53mgs of Vitamin C.
However, if you are concerned about iron deficiency, studies have shown that 100mg or Vitamin C with meals can increase iron absorption by up to four times. There are a lot of foods that are high in Vitamin C and will adequately help you reach this target, such as red capsicum and chilli, tomatoes, potatoes and dark green leafy vegetables. Another way to increase your Vitamin C intake is to cook your vegetables.
You can also consider the addition of citrus fruits to salads or as a snack or, even half a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at a meal.
+ Reduce certain foods when consuming iron rich meals
Consuming large amounts of calcium is one thing to be careful of if you are concerned about your iron levels. Whilst small amounts of calcium (around 50mg or less) have little to no effect on iron absorption, larger amounts ranging from 300-600mg do reduce the amount of iron your body will be able to absorb. To put this into perspective, 1 cup of skim milk contains 300mg of calcium. Which means you may need to be mindful of how close you have your skinny latte to your meal.
But what happens if you are taking a calcium supplement to aid in bone health, you may ask? It may be recommended to have your calcium supplement at a separate time from your iron intake, such as at bed time to reduce these minerals cancelling each other out.
Cocoa, Coffee, herbal teas and black tea all have compounds called polyphenols. These compounds are known to significantly reduce your body’s ability to reduce iron from foods. One cup of certain types of coffee can inhibit your absorption by up to 60%. So, consider separating your coffee or tea from your meal to give your body every chance to meet your daily iron requirements on a meat-free diet.