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Monday, February 8, 2010

Beef up on your iron (literally) and Recipe for Beef, Lentil and Tomato Stew with Greens

Typically during your 28 week appointment (or closest one), your doctor/midwife will give you the lovely orange drink for glucose testing (for gestational diabetes screen) and will also recheck your hemoglobin levels (they typically check it with your first bloodwork too). Hemoglobin is your red blood cell count and typically lets the doctor/midwife know whether or not you are low in iron. The interesting thing is that in your last trimester of pregnancy, your blood volume gets much larger, so the hemoglobin will naturally become diluted and your iron levels will lower accordingly.

Doctors/midwives will diagnose anything under 11 "anemia" and recommend a supplement. "Your iron is borderline" is result I got in both pregnancies. Since I am normally "borderline", that answer was not surprising to me. Upon further inquiry, I find that my iron is a 10.7. I recommend that you find out what yours is, if you are told you need iron supplementation because you should know how much to take (keep in mind that you get some in your prenatal too if you take one). I say this, because iron supplementation is very constipating, and who needs MORE constipation during pregnancy? I vote no to constipation.

When I asked if there are other options, the midwife then explains that I can eat more iron-rich foods, more vitamin C with the vegetarian forms of iron, and we can recheck closer to my due date. I like that option better. Maybe a burger a day will keep the doctor away...

So what does a diet look like when you are trying to increase your iron levels? First, get yourself a cast iron pan. The iron leaches into your food and increases the iron substantially. You can get one for a decent price. Just follow the directions on seasoning it and use it! Then use the lists below to increase iron rich foods and foods that enhance iron-absorption, and decrease foods that inhibit iron-absorption or eat those at different times of the day.

Iron-rich foods that have highest absorption because they contain the heme form of iron:
  • Red meats like beef, pork, lamb, liver (limit liver to 1/week because of high vitamin A levels)
  • Chicken, duck and other poultry
  • Fish and shellfish

Iron-rich foods that have lower absorption because they contain the non-heme form of iron (but should still be considered):

  • Unsulphured or black strap molasses
  • Green leafy veggies (kale, chard, broccoli, spinach, beet greens, etc)
  • Dried Beans and lentils, and legumes
  • Dried fruits like raisins and appricots (which have the vitamin C in there too!)

Foods that enhance iron-absorption:

  • Foods high in vitamin C which includes fresh/raw fruits/vegetables, fruit juices (read the labels 100% juice with no added sugars!)
  • Foods high in folate (folic acid) which are dark leafy greens, dried beans, wheat germ and orange juice

Foods that inhibit iron-absorption:

  • Whole grains with phytic acid. Soaking grains can neutralize it's effects
  • Calcium-rich dairy foods and supplements (eat at different times of the day)
  • Tea with tannic acid
  • Some herbs, including peppermint and chamomile
  • Coffee
  • Cocoa

If supplementation is needed:
However, if after talking to your doctor/midwife, they find it absolutely necessary that you supplement your iron or you feel uncomfortable relying on your diet alone: consider using Floradix or Brewer's Yeast instead of a synthetic vitamin. They are more easily absorbed and will cause less constipation. Do not supplement if you are not anemic, iron is not excreted easily and you could become iron toxic, which you do not want either.

Recipe: Beef, Lentil and Tomato Stew with Greens
I adapted this recipe from a basic lamb stew recipe I got from I have used lamb in it as well and it also works nicely. The beef, lentils, and greens will give you a big iron boost.

Olive oil
1 pound of beef stew meat
1 onion chopped up
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp minced, peeled fresh ginger
1-2 carrots, diced small
1 stalk of celery diced small
1 Tbs curry powder (or more if you like)
2 cups beef stock (or water is fine)
1.5 cups jarred diced tomatoes with juices or a chunky tomato sauce
1 cup dried green or french lentils
2 cups chopped greens (kale, collards, spinach or chard would work nicely)


  1. Brown the beef in the olive oil.
  2. Add onions, garlic, ginger, celery and carrots. Saute until onions and carrots get cooked down a bit.
  3. Add the curry powder and mix it in for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the stock or water.
  5. Add tomatoes and lentils.
  6. Cover the pot and let simmer for 45 min to 1 hour until the lentils are tender.
  7. Toss the greens in and cook down until tender.
  8. Serve in bowls by itself or serve over brown rice (soak the rice for several hours before cooking to neutralize the phytic acid. Phytic acid will block the iron absorption).

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