One of the most common concerns is losing Iron in their diet when someone begins a vegan or vegetarian diet. Iron intake is usually associated with foods of animal origin, mainly red meat.
However, it is not the only source of Iron, and there are also plant-based sources of Iron. If you have decided to start a vegetarian diet, it is normal that you worry about thinking if you will lack Iron or if you are going to suffer from anemia because of it.
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What functions does Iron have in our body?
- Iron is an essential mineral present in many proteins that involved different vital functions of the body.
- This mineral founds as part of hemoglobin and myoglobin, a protein whose function is to store oxygen within the muscle.
- In turn, hemoglobin is part of the cellular respiration process and carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the leather through the blood.
- In addition, Iron is also necessary for some hormone and connective tissue manufacturing processes.
Iron deficiency anemia and its symptoms
Although our body contains its iron reserves, we must be careful with the diet to avoid its loss and replace it.
If our diet is deficient in this mineral, these deposits deplete, which is when iron deficiency anemia occurs. If you lack iron, your body does not take advantage of the oxygen it receives.
Anemia Iron deficiency is a global health problem that is especially common in young women and children. The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are as follows:
- Tiredness: when the muscles do not receive oxygen (which they use to generate energy), you notice it in the form of fatigue.
- Paleness: Hemoglobin is the protein that gives blood its red color. When it descends from a lack of Iron, the skin looks paler. In addition, the loss of blood quality also slows wound healing.
- Decreased mental performance: related to lack of concentration. It happens because the brain is one of the organs of your body that needs more energy and oxygen and its contribution is not enough when anemia occurs.
- Palpitations and fatigue: when iron deficiency anemia is severe, it can produce tachycardia and palpitations. Symptoms that disappear when treated.
Other symptoms that may appear with iron deficiency anemia are shortness of breath, dizziness, and weak nails and hair.
Types of iron: heme iron vs. non-heme iron
- It occurs in two forms in food: heme and non-heme Iron.
- The percentage of heme iron absorption, coming from red meat, poultry, pork, and fish, is higher than non-heme Iron.
- The non – heme iron is to be found mainly in the sources of plant origin such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. We highlight the case of egg yolk, which, despite being of animal origin, contains non-heme Iron.
- This fact makes vegans and vegetarians aware of the foods with the highest amount of this mineral and the techniques that can promote absorption.
- They must also take into account its inhibitors. Also, the iron recommendations for these may be higher than the recommendations for non-vegetarians.
Plant-based sources of iron (non-heme)
- If you opt for a vegetarian diet or vegan food , you can obtain enough Iron from plant-based foods, taking into account which ones contain the most significant amount of it.
- It is also essential to know the techniques that improve its absorption and avoid inhibitory substances.
- The plant foods with higher iron content mainly belong to the group of pulses. Among them, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and their derivatives such as tempeh or tofu stand out.
- Within the group of vegetables are chard, seaweed, or spinach. In addition, in vegetarian or vegan diets, you can also obtain Iron from other sources such as nuts or fortified foods.
How to improve the absorption of non-heme Iron
- To improve the bioavailability of non-heme iron and the amount and speed we absorb, we must consume it with foods rich in vitamin C.
- Some foods rich in vitamin C are citrus fruits such as lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, or orange; papaya, kiwi, or strawberries. We can also find vitamin C in vegetables such as broccoli, red bell pepper, orchard.
- To help improve the absorption of Iron, we can also potential the consumption of vitamin A and beta-carotene. Vitamin A founds in eggs and beta-carotene in broccoli, carrots, squash, or sweet potatoes.
Iron inhibitors: how to deactivate them
- Iron inhibitors in phytates, phosphates, oxalates, and tannins in tea, chocolate, and coffee.
- Therefore, it recommends to consume it a few hours before a meal that contains foods rich in Iron.
- Antacid medications and calcium from other foods also act as iron inhibitors.
Considerations to take into account in vegan or vegetarian diets
- A nutritionally adequate, organized, and planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be suitable at any stage of life and in the special conditions of an athlete.
- An inadequate diet can lead to losses in both health and performance in omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan diets.
- Eat a high in healthy fats and complex carbohydrates so that protein plays its leading role.
- As for supplements, it should be a health professional who considers whether you should take them as there are times when there is not enough Iron provided by food and extra help is needed.
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