Ensuring Sufficient Iron Intake and Absorption

Research suggests that the most common causes of iron deficiency among athletes are insufficient iron intake, reduced absorption, and, in females, menstrual blood loss. Thus, to avoid the pitfalls of poor iron status, you need to include a variety of iron-rich foods in your daily diet and ensure that the iron you consume is well absorbed. Education on plant sources of iron and on the dietary factors that enhance and inhibit iron absorption is all you need to get started. 

After that,you just need to make sure you make good choices and, as always, that you meet your energy intake needs.First, good sources of iron are typically found in whole and enriched grains,cereals and pasta, root and leafy-green vegetables, dried fruits, legumes, and nuts and seeds. Chances are that if you are eating a well-balanced vegetarian diet and are not restricting your calories, you are already getting enough iron. 

If you think your diet may be lacking, make an effort to addmore iron-rich foods. You can also try cooking in an old-fashioned iron skillet or tossing an iron “egg” or “stone” into soups and sauces. The iron obtained from the skillet or stone can add to the iron content of cooked foods, particularly when the foods cooked are slightly acidic, such as tomato sauce. This is an old trick used by populations throughout the world living on a plant-based diet. Iron eggs,however, are hard to find in the United States but may be more readily available in other countries.

Next, ensure that the iron that you have consumed is absorbed. As you most likely know, the iron found in plant foods, eggs, and dairy is in a form called nonheme, or elemental, iron which is not absorbed as well (2 to 20 percent that is consumed is absorbed) as the heme iron form found in meat (15 to 35 percent that is consumed is absorbed). Heme refers to iron in the form of myoglobin and also hemoglobin (just like in the body), which is why dark meat has a higher iron content than white meat. 

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