Thursday, February 5, 2009

Question Everything

This week I was asked the following question: "I am pregnant and I was wondering if you have any good suggestions on how I can increase my iron intake? I am allergic to salmon, I don't eat meat, and the multivitamins are making me sick"
First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy! Second of all, I suggest you check with your physician regarding the nausea you have experienced from taking your multivitamin. Perhaps he/she will have some suggestions on how you may be better able to tolerate the 'horse pills' (as I called them!).

With respect to iron, dietary iron exists in two different forms:
Heme iron which is found only in animal sources (beef, pork, poultry and fish) and non-heme iron which is found only in plant foods (fruits, cereals, legumes, nuts). Heme iron is more easily absorbed compared to non-heme iron. Absorption of iron is further complicated by the fact that some dietary factors help its absorption, while others hinder it. For example, coffee and tea are strong inhibitors, while vitamin C is a strong stimulator of iron absorption. And consider this fact, at most, only 30% of a foods iron content is absorbed by your body.

So assuming you don't eat meat or fish, what are good sources of non-heme iron ?

Lentils, chick peas, baked beans, dried figs & apricots, pumpkin seeds, tofu and fortified, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal. Check the label on the package for the percentage (RDA) of iron in a specific breakfast cereal. Also keep in mind that pasta, white rice, and most breads made from refined flours are enriched with iron, because iron is one of the nutrients lost in processing, however, these are not considered the riches sources of iron.

Iron is an essential nutrient because it is a central part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Pregnant women require more iron to cope with the metabolic demands on pregnancy. Once you enter the third trimester your own iron stores begin to diminish and many women have difficulty maintaining their iron stores. For this reason the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a routine low-dose iron supplement (30 mg per day) for all pregnant women. If you have a difficult time taking it at once, I suggest you cut the dose in half and take with a glass of orange juice twice a day. Orange juice boosts your absorption of iron! Good luck.

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