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Tomatoes and citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits and lemons, are bursting with vitamin C, which we all know is essential for a strong immune system and protection against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. But did you know that they can also help those with iron deficiencies and anemia?
There are two kinds of dietary iron that we get from food: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron comes from meat and meat products and is easily absorbed. However, as the consumption of animal products like chicken and beef is on the decline, the intake of easily absorbable iron is also decreasing. This can lead to iron deficiency anemia, especially if you are a female of child-bearing age, have faced cancer, or have particular bone or kidney diseases.
Non-heme iron is not as easily absorbable as heme iron is, but it’s easy to come by. Sources of non-heme iron include leafy green vegetables, mushrooms, and dried seaweed, as well as dietary supplements. However, to absorb the non-heme iron, there must be a source of vitamin C present. That’s where tomatoes and citrus fruits come in.
When you’re eating a salad or sipping on a smoothie, try adding citrus or tomatoes to the mix to ensure absorption of the non-heme iron. The same is true if you’re taking an iron supplement; consider taking it with a small glass of citrus juice.
Before supplementing iron, be sure to consult with a physician as iron in excessive amounts can be toxic. This usually isn’t an issue for those who get iron from their diets, but supplementation does increase the risk of getting too much iron.
For optimal health and balance, get a variety of foods and enjoy a mix of vegetables and fruits in your smoothies. By getting plenty of vegetables, along with a balance of other nutrients, it’s likely that supplements won’t be needed.
The following vegetables contain the greatest amount of iron:
To help your body absorb the iron, pair it with any of the following citrus fruits and juices:
Mix and match the ingredients in your favorite recipes for a healthy dose of iron and a balance of nutrients. There are many smoothies recipes to help you get started! Also, consider scheduling an annual check-up with your physician and your dietitian. Prevention and a great diet plan will keep you headed in the right direction!
Jeannene Davis graduated from The University of Texas Houston Health Science Center with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics and followed the degree with a Certification in Adult Weight Management and Diabetes Education. She provides in-house support to physician offices and large scale support to corporations and small businesses to ensure their employees have the most current information about nutrition and wellness.
She's worked in hospitals, outpatient radiation clinics, gene therapy centers, and even insurance companies, focusing on health and wellness, diabetes, and herb and supplement education, as well as renal nutrition support to pre-dialysis, dialysis, and renal transplant patients for a variety of companies since 1993.