How to replace iron in meat?


The following is a transcript of the video

Iron is essential

When you read about the need to eat less meat, the first (legitimate) doubt most people have is about iron:

Where do you get iron if not from meat?

Iron is a mineral necessary for our body, and “essential” is not an adjective used randomly: in nutrition, an essential nutrient is defined as a nutrient that must be obtained through the diet because our body is unable to synthesize it in sufficient quantities to meet its metabolic needs. In other words, to maintain good health and the proper functioning of many bodily functions, we must obtain iron (and other essential nutrients) directly from the foods we eat or, if that is not possible, through dietary supplements.

And iron is certainly essential, in fact it is indispensable for many functions, such as transporting oxygen in the blood. Meat is traditionally considered to be the main source of iron, but what happens when you decide to reduce or completely eliminate the consumption of meat from your diet?

Are all vegans anemic?

Woman with doubtful expression

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The official position of the American Academy of Nutrition is that vegans and vegetarians generally consume as much iron as omnivores, but as Dr. Vendram, it doesn’t mean that vegans are peaceful, but in the sense that not everyone else is peaceful either. , because iron deficiency is quite common in the population regardless of the diet followed.

Plant foods rich in iron

And luckily, there are some alternatives to meat that will guarantee an adequate intake of iron, and if you think about it, it shouldn’t surprise you too much from an evolutionary point of view: our prehistoric ancestors didn’t always have access to a constant and varied diet. resources like us today. Consequently, evolution has favored the ability to extract essential nutrients from a wide variety of food sources. This includes not only meat, but also plants, seeds, legumes and grains. This diversity of diet allowed man to survive and adapt in different environments with different food sources available and when it comes to iron I mean for example:

  • Legumesexcellent sources of iron include beans, lentils and chickpeas. An excellent source is especially soy (ie soy contains more than 15 mg of iron per 100 g, while steak around 2 mg), even more in derivatives such as tofu or especially tempeh, thanks to the fermentation work of bacteria.
  • Whole grains: Not just the usual pasta and bread grains, but for example quinoa, oats and barley and all the possible alternatives you can think of offer good amounts of iron, especially considering the fact that they are present in your diet more or less every day. Teff and amaranth stand out above all for their above-average content, then obviously refined cereals stand out, but this time negatively, as they lose almost all of their iron along the way.
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, right? No… spinach, despite Popeye’s impression of it, isn’t that special a source of this nutrient, at least not any more than alternatives like watercress, kale, arugula, broccoli and chicory, but also less common options like Jerusalem artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes. nettles. They have slightly less potatoes, but we tend to eat more of them, making up for the difference.
  • Dried fruits and seedsfor example, pistachios are certainly a good choice, as are sesame and pumpkin seeds.

These are vegan options, but in addition to meat, clams (along with other seafood) are also excellent options. By the way, did you know that some vegans eat clams and mussels because they don’t have a nervous system and may not be considered animals?

Iron in the diet: heme and non-heme

Iron occurs in two different forms in food: heme iron and non-heme iron.

  • Heme iron is mainly present in meat and fish,
  • while non-heme iron is found in plants.

The body absorbs heme iron more easily, it is true, but the difference between the two is a largely overstated problem, also because in reality only about half of the iron present in meat, fish and poultry is of the heme type, the rest being non-heme as in plants.

Heme iron is absorbed in percentages between 15% and 35%, depending on the individual’s stores.

But the average food content sees most of the iron in the non-heme form, thus providing an overall greater contribution to body reserves, despite its lower rate of absorption, between 2% and 20%… notwithstanding that this wide range can be shifted into our benefit, that is, up, with a few simple measures.

Improve iron absorption

  1. Long soak for whole grains and legumes for at least 12 hours, or much longer without contraindications, to deactivate the phytic acid that would otherwise trap the iron present. A good and similar alternative is inducing the germination of vegetables, but I personally find it a bit more laborious and therefore less suitable for everyday use.
  2. Eat foods rich in vitamin C, which is able to significantly increase the absorption of iron. Adding citrus fruits or simply vegetables rich in vitamin C, such as raw peppers or tomato salad, tossing a squeeze of lemon over a salad can make all the difference and is one of the reasons why vegans, who usually eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, aren’t actually more at risk than iron deficiency anemia omnivores.
  3. Watch out for tannins, contained for example in black tea, wine, bitter cocoa and in the peel of some types of fruit, which can reduce iron absorption. But I would say that if we skip the black tea, don’t worry and have a square of bitter cocoa at the end of the meal, also because the tannins contained are compensated by the simultaneous presence of iron.

Fiber is not a problem when consumed regularly because the body adapts; similar discussions can be had about zinc, calcium and oxalic acid, all substances that could interfere with iron absorption, but which in fact have a significant impact only on those with specific deficiencies and difficulties, while with a reasonably varied and healthy diet it does not represent a real problem. One of the things I like most about plant-based diets, not necessarily vegetarian or even vegan, is that they’re particularly rich in micronutrients and don’t require special attention to the same micronutrients, because it’s the variety that makes all the difference. , what I work for us; diversity in food choices, combinations, cooking methods and so on.

Speaking of cooking, a note about meat as well: longer cooking tends to reduce the amount of iron actually available, confirming the fact that even omnivores, as the statistics confirm, are not actually safe from any deficiencies from eating meat alone.

But in my opinion, the most fascinating thing is the ability of our organism, and the intestine in particular, to adapt and modulate more or less high absorption of specific substances depending on the season. You may tend to absorb a bit more for the same amount consumed immediately after your period and then decrease again as your stores are restored. A diet rich in vegetables offers a kind of self-service to the intestines, a bit like those oriental restaurants where the plates slide along the conveyor belt and leave the intestinal cells to take what is needed when needed.

So replacing iron in meat is not only possible, but can also be an opportunity to explore new foods and tastes. By incorporating plant sources of iron into your daily diet and adopting strategies to improve its absorption, you can maintain optimal levels of this essential mineral without even thinking about it, because as always, a varied and balanced diet is key to prevention. any deficiency.

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