Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Iron Supplements vs. Iron-Rich Foods

My iron levels are fluctuating within the low range and I feel fine (low end may be my normal).  I feel like I eat foods with lots of iron with the exception of red meat and liver.  What do you suggest to boost iron?

There are LOTS of whole foods that contain iron, like chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, nutritional yeast (I sprinkle this on air popped popcorn), and dried fruits like apricots and raisins.

Iron in food is absorbed better when eaten with foods containing Vitamin C.  So at the same meal try eating iron rich foods with Vitamin C containing foods, like citrus, broccoli, and bell peppers.  Also avoid coffee and tea at the same meal since it can inhibit iron absorption.

Plant-based vs. Animal-based vs. Supplements

You may have heard that iron from animal sources is superior to iron from plants.  This is based on the fact that our bodies can absorb the animal-based iron more readily than plant-based iron. 

This is true … and it’s NOT a good thing.

To start with, our bodies have NO way to rid itself of excess iron.

Our colons are designed to regulate whether or not iron is absorbed or not absorbed into our bodies.  If you body needs more iron, more iron is absorbed through your colon wall.  If you body doesn’t need iron, you colon doesn’t allow your body to absorb it and the iron continues along the colon and passes out of your body naturally.

However, the colon cannot regulate animal-based iron or iron supplements.  Your body absorbs ALL of the iron you consume via animal based-food and supplements.  This can be dangerous since too much iron is not good for your body.  Too much can damage your liver and heart and lead to diseases like diabetes and arthritis.

Only people whose doctor has confirmed a diagnosis of iron deficiency or anemia should consider an iron supplement.  And even then I suggest talking with your doctor about treating it with diet alone before using supplements.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Maca Powder

I was browsing through recipes and came across a smoothie recipe that sounded good. However it included 3 tsp Maca Powder. Could you please explain what this is, its nutritional benefits, negative factors if any, and why it is included in a smoothie recipe? Thanks.

Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable and is traditionally thought to increase energy and stamina along with increasing both fertility and sex drive. Historically high-altitude living Peruvians lived mostly on a diet of cooked maca root, not the powdered form, and potatoes.

In menopausal women, maca has been shown to work on all of a woman’s menopausal symptoms instead of any one specific symptom alone even though maca does not contain estrogens or hormones.

Nutritionally powdered maca has about 10 Kcal per teaspoon and breaks down into approximately 70% carbs and 15% protein.  It is also high in Vitamin C and minerals like potassium, calcium, copper, and iron. 

Generally eating a whole food rather than a concentrated powder or supplement is better for your health overall.  So if you are going to add maca powder to smoothies make sure it is just ground maca (i.e., less processed) and not a concentrated maca powder.

According to WebMD, maca is likely safe for most people when taken in food amounts (e.g., 1-2 tsp in a smoothie).  People with a hormone-sensitive condition please check with your doctor or other healthcare professional before using maca.