Improving the iron in your diet is an interesting topic because very little about it is straight-forward. Foods interact in various ways either to reduce your iron absorption or to improve it and your task is to find the right mix-and-match of foods that fits your lifestyle and your iron needs. Some people will easily meet their iron need by adding more meat to their diet. (This is the easiest option.) Others will employ all of the tips and tricks here to get the most out of the iron in their plant-based foods. Whatever you choose for yourself, you may find that after integrating some of these food selection tips and kitchen preparation strategies, your kitchen and your menus will never be the same again (in a good way).
Tip #1: Soak Your Beans Overnight
You may have heard that beans, a non-heme source of iron, have iron inhibitors that limit your absorption of iron from the beans. In fact, you will probably only absorb about one-third of the iron in non-heme sources like beans compared to heme sources like meat. However, you can reduce iron inhibitors by soaking beans overnight in warm water. You can read more here about soaking beans but you basically start with water above body temperature, put your beans in a pot or bowl, cover them with the warm water, and set them in a warm place overnight. This simple step will help you absorb more of the iron in the beans.
Tip #2: Eat It With Bell Pepper And Tomato
Those beans will be better absorbed still if you eat them along with a high vitamin C food such as bell pepper or tomato. A fruit-based dessert made from a high vitamin C food such as papaya or mango is a good option too.
Tip #3: Eat Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread is tasty and it actually makes use of a process that reduces iron inhibitors in your grain. Sourdough baking makes use of the principles outlined on this website that reduce iron inhibitors in grains: Moisture + Temperature + Time. Your grain in a sourdough recipe sits in water (moisture), the water is warm (temperature), and it sits for hours (time). As a result, the iron inhibitors are broken down, unlocking the iron in your whole wheat, rye, or other grain.
Tip #4: Buy A Grain Mill
Fresh milled grain is higher in the enzymes that reduce iron inhibitors in your flour. If you fresh mill your grain yourself, you will improve your absorption of iron in the breads that you bake. Use recipes with a long rise time or sourdough preparations for best results.
Tip #5: Pass On The Coffee
As we discuss in the Iron Rich Foods book, of this list of drinks, some reduce your iron absorption by three times, others enhance your iron absorption:
- Red Wine
- Orange Juice
Coffee, red wine, tea, and milk are all iron inhibitors. Orange juice helps you absorb it better. One researcher we cite in the Iron Rich Foods book examined how long before meals and after meals you can actually drink coffee. He must be a coffee drinker.