Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Plant-based sources of iron

A hand holds a plate of Moroccan lentils on rice and broccoli.

Many health organizations are suggesting that you should eat more plant-based proteins, like this dish of Moroccan Lentils, brown rice, and broccoli.

Do you pay attention to how much iron you consume? Most people don’t, but many health organizations are urging people to choose plant-based proteins more often, and this could mean taking a closer look at where your iron comes from.

Iron is a very important mineral that carries oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency can include fatigue, a weakened immune system, and difficulty regulating body temperature.

There are two types of iron:

  • Heme iron, which is found in animal products like meat and seafood.
  • Non-heme iron, which is from plants.

Non-heme iron doesn’t get absorbed as well, so people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diets need to consume almost twice the recommended amount of iron as people who eat meat. Also, women need more than twice the amount of iron than men, and pregnant women need even more!

The best way to make sure you’re getting enough iron is to include a good source of iron at each meal and snack. Other than the small amount of iron in a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, it’s important not to take an iron supplement unless you’ve received a diagnosis of iron deficiency and have spoken to your doctor.

You can find iron in a variety of plant foods. Some of the staples in my diet include:

  • Dried apricots, tomato paste, and greens (for instance: spinach, kale, and beet greens)
  • Oatmeal, bran, and iron-fortified cereal
  • Edamame, tofu, lentils, beans, chickpeas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and tahini
  • Blackstrap molasses

If you’re trying to increase your iron intake, it’s important to squeeze in extra iron wherever you can:

  • Sprinkle savoury dishes with sesame seeds.
  • Use peanut butter and tahini to create a sauce or dressing.
  • Use blackstrap molasses in place of some of the maple syrup or honey in baking.
  • Include a variety of fruits and vegetables with each meal.
  • Use onions and garlic frequently in your cooking. Onions and garlic can increase absorption of iron.
  • Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron.

There are many factors (other than intake of dietary iron) that can affect your iron levels. If you have questions about how much iron you should be consuming or if you think you might be iron deficient, speak with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian.

Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

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Pumping iron: First foods for building strong babies

At last, this exciting time has come: your baby is nearing 6 months old and can start to eat solid foods! Their tiny digestive system is now developed enough to handle many of the foods you and your family enjoy! Hooray!

…Now what?!

Giving your baby solid foods for the first time can be both exciting and intimidating. By 6 months, your baby is ready to learn to eat foods with different flavours and textures. He or she needs more nutrients than breast milk or formula can provide. Iron is especially important because your baby only has enough at birth to provide him or her until around 6 months. For this reason, babies’ first foods should be those rich in iron to ensure they have enough of this valuable nutrient for proper growth and development.

Plate of first foods

Babies’ first foods should be those rich in iron. There are lots of options for baby to explore!

Some examples include:

  • Soft, well-cooked meats and poultry (beef, moose, elk, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb)
  • Lumpy-mashed beans, legumes and lentils
  • Tender cooked eggs and tofu
  • Deboned and flaked fish
  • Iron-fortified infant cereal

Meats and poultry can be boiled or poached, and should be ground, minced or mashed. Fish can be poached or baked after removing the skin and bones. Well-cooked beans, lentils, and hard-boiled eggs can be mashed with a fork or potato masher. HealthLink BC has some great recipes for your 6-9 month old baby.

It’s important to make sure your little one is being provided with a variety of soft textures and finger foods. Progressing quickly from puree to soft and lumpy textured foods will encourage your baby to try and enjoy a variety of foods as they get older. Similarly, introducing finger foods early helps your baby get used to different food textures, improves coordination, and encourages self-feeding.

When your baby is eating iron-rich foods two or more times per day, start to offer other foods such as cooked vegetables, soft or cooked fruit, yogurt, pasteurized cheeses and cooked pasta or rice. If you would like to introduce whole cow’s milk, do so when your baby is 9-12 months old and eating a variety of iron-rich foods. This will ensure their digestive system is developed enough to digest cow’s milk and they will not turn down iron-rich foods due to filling up on milk.

Lastly, make mealtimes fun! If he or she is showing interest in feeding him- or herself, let your baby eat with their hands, explore their food and get messy. Allow your little one to eat as much or as little as they want. They will learn to follow their hunger and fullness cues, which will help them build lifelong eating skills and think about food in a positive way.

You can find more information about introducing solid foods and iron-rich first foods from the links below or by contacting HealthLink BC dietitians via email or by dialing 8-1-1.

Resources

Northern Health

HealthLinkBC

Karli Nordman

About Karli Nordman

Karli is a Dietetic Intern completing her internship throughout Northern Health. She has had a growing interest in food and nutrition for as long as she can remember and is a big advocate for a food first approach to overall health and happiness. Her passions are evenly divided between her career path and being outdoors - which makes northern B.C. the perfect place to both learn and explore.

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