Pumping Iron

22 04 2009

We all need it but do we get enough of it?

Plant based iron is called “Nonheme” ( essentially not-from-blood).  Our bodies have to take an extra step to absorb this type of iron versus Heme Iron (which comes from animal sources).  Nonheme iron must be converted to the different form via an enzyme or acid (it must gain an electron), however, this can be achieved through the acidic environment during digestion.

Unfortunately, its not as easy as 1,2,3. Our bodies rate of absorbtion vary widely for each of us, factors include how much hemoglobin is already in your blood, the oxygen in your blood, bone marrow production. there are also factors such as Vitamin C intake, which enhances absorption because it converts the iron to the absorbable form. Iron absorption is delayed with compounds such as phytates in whole grains, oxalic acid in berries and cocoa, calcium, and more. Overall, absorption completely depends on what you ate with the iron source, how much of what you ate were inhibitors or enhancers and your own metabolic functioning in general!

Phew, take a breath. Okay.

Very little iron is excreted from the body, making toxicity fairly easy to achieve if your iron-intake is high. The “upper tolerable intake” for women 14 and older is 45 mg/day. Most of us do not need iron supplements nor iron dense foods, but they can be helpful for women. Vegans that are not really keeping track of their iron intake and making sure it is high enough “should consult a physician on taking iron supplements”. I think it would be incredibly hard to actually get enough iron without meat but it is quite possible!

1/2 cup of spinach provides:

  • 10 % of your daily value for iron
  • 229% Vitamin A ( which helps release iron from storage)
  •  3% Vitamin C ( enhances conversion of iron for easier absorption)
  • 15% Calcium ( which inhibits the absorption of iron).

I don’t think spinach really “does it” in my opinion as a good source of iron!  It does impress as a fantastic food though-so enjoy it frequently!


Human beings use 20 mg of iron each day for the production of new red blood cells, much of which is recycled from old red blood cells. My presentation this week in Vitamins Class was regarding Iron products as a way of preventing anemia, a deficiency in iron. We compared a whole food ( Spinach) with a functional food (Vitalicious Vitatops) with a supplement (Iron as Ferrous Sulfate pills).

Here is some information from my presentation/ NIH Factsheets on Iron !

Iron deficiency anemia
Anemia can be associated with low dietary intake of iron, inadequate absorption of iron, or excessive blood loss [1]. Women of childbearing age, pregnant women, preterm and low birth weight infants, older infants and toddlers, and teenage girls are at greatest risk of developing iron deficiency anemia because they have the greatest need for iron [33]. Women with heavy menstrual losses can lose a significant amount of iron and are at considerable risk for iron deficiency [1,3]

Vitamin A helps mobilize iron from its storage sites ( Iron is stored with the help of the protein “ferritin” ). If one is deficient in Vitamin A, this often results in an “apparent” iron deficiency because hemoglobin (Iron in the blood) levels are low despite proper storage processes.  While uncommon in the U.S., this problem is seen in developing countries where vitamin A deficiency often occurs.

Signs of iron deficiency anemia include:

  •  feeling tired and weak
  • decreased work and school performance
  • slow cognitive and social development during childhood
  • difficulty maintaining body temperature
  • decreased immune function, which increases susceptibility to infection.

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Iron for Infants (7 to 12 months), Children, and Adults [1]

Age                Males            Females        during Pregnancy    Lactation

7 to 12 mos.    11 mg/day  11 mg/day      n/a

1 to 3 yrs.         7 mg/day    7 mg/day      n/a

4 to 8 years       10 mg/day   10 mg/day   n/a

9 to 13 years     8 mg/day   8 mg/day   n/a

14 to 18 years    11 mg/day   15 mg/day   27 mg/day     10mg/day

19 to 50 years    8 mg/day   18 mg/day    27 mg/day     9mg/day

51+ years           8 mg/day   8 mg/day      n/a
Iron Source : Vitalicious Vita Brownies

Taste: I love the banana walnut, however the chocolate ones have tended to taste like a vitamin…

Availability :Online and in the Freezer Section of most Grocers

Storage: 1 year in the freezer

Daily Value: 1 vitalicious vitatop or brownie provides

50% DV Iron  ( approx. 4-5 mg) and…

50% Vitamins A, C, E, B6, B12, Biotin, D, Folic Acid

This would be ideal for getting in Vitamin A to help release Iron from its storage sites and also Vitamin C which helps enhance absorption of Iron into cells for usage.

Cost: $1.50 + per brownie is a bit expensive
Efficacy: These seem to be a great portion controlled product that offers more than just a 100 kcal dessert/breakfast on the go. I think it could be a pretty well-rounded source of these vitamins should your diet not be quite “up to par”, however, these should not be consumed too often because it could easily put you over the RDA for more vitamins and minerals if you are already consuming lots of fruits and vegetables.




6 responses

22 04 2009

Hooray for iron!!

Good luck on the presentation!!

22 04 2009
Lara (Thinspired)

This is so interesting–you are so well prepared! The fact that you have time to blog about this BEFORE your presentation shows that you are just way ahead already 😉 I had a ton of spinach in my green monster this afternoon..how far goes that get me?! 🙂 Good luck!

22 04 2009

Love iron! But no, seriously I do 🙂 I struggled with a deficiency for most of my life and vitamuffins sound like a perfect solution if I do say so myself!

22 04 2009

I have read that our bodies only absorb something like 5-10% of plant based iron, which makes me a little concerned being a vegetarian.

22 04 2009

Very interesting! I think that’s a big problem with all of these vitamin-fortified products; people don’t seem to realize that toxicity is just as bad as deficiency.

22 04 2009

Thanks for sharing so much great information!

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