It has come to my attention over the past year that iron deficiency has become more common and not just an iron deficiency that needs a tablet or liquid to correct, these deficiencies seem to come and stay. Could this be due to the increase of plant-based eating? Has our diet become worse, or is it the digestive system?
Let’s explore this further but first, how do you know you have an iron deficiency? Iron deficiency symptoms generally involve sleeping problems, extreme tiredness, palpitations, dizziness, and feeling lightheaded. A blood test will determine if your symptoms are due to an iron deficiency. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough substances for red blood cells that transport oxygen. As a result, you feel tired and may experience a shortness of breath.
So, here are my thoughts and as with anything in health; there is no one key fits all. It could be the digestion of iron through the gut or lack of iron in the diet.
What I would like to focus on is plant-based eating or veganism. Iron can be sourced from many plant-based foods, but when food is incorrectly combined, it can cause iron deficiency. This is also true for zinc as zinc binds to particular plant-based food called phytate, making it unabsorbable.
Plant-based food rich in iron without the phytates include, green leafy veg, peas, dried fruit, spirulina, and barley grass.
Phytate or phytic acid is found in plant seeds and can inhibit calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc absorption. However, it is also the primary form of phosphorus once the seed is sprouted. Phytates are found in nuts, grains and legumes. It only affects the absorption for the meal you are having, not for meals after that meal. For example: snacking on nuts between meals may reduce the absorption of zinc, calcium and iron, but not from the meals you have before or after that.
37-66% degrade in the stomach and small intestine and bind the mineral in the small intestine before they can be absorbed.
There are ways you can reduce the phytate in the grains, legume and seeds.
Heat: Reduces a small amount of phytate.
Soak: Soak legumes overnight before you use them this can reduce the phytate.
Sprouted: Sprout seed, grains and legumes. These are found as bread to purchase and as an ingredient in some foods.
Fermentation: Lactic acid fermentation such as sourdough reduce phytate. Some acid produced during this process can also support mineral absorption.
Adding vitamin C: One study suggests adding 50mg of vitamin C, counteracts the phytate in that meal. Eat the food with vitamin C such as kiwi fruit, bell peppers, oranges, strawberries, and cauliflower.
Gut health: low PH in the gut helps with iron absorption and having balanced good bacteria in the gut.
Add vinegar in dressing to enhance mineral absorption.
Phytic acid is also beneficial for our health as it is an antioxidant that may protect kidney stones; cancer such as colon cancer. It does this by binding the free radical and has also been seen to bind heavy metals like lead and cadmium. It is even very beneficial for those who have hemochromatosis (high iron stores).
So, if you are suffering from an iron deficiency:
Make sure you take your iron away from food.
Take it with Vitamin C.
Increase iron-rich foods with Vitamin C rich foods and follow the step above on food with phytic acid.
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