Do you feel tired often? Do you sometimes feel out of breath or feel your heart beating in your chest? Have your friends commented that you are unusually pale?
If you have these symptoms, you may have a lack of iron or anemia, the most common nutritional disorder in the world.
In countries like the United Kingdom it is particularly frequent among young women.
According to a 2011 national nutrition study, 21% of British women between the ages of 19 and 34 had lower ferritin levels than recommended. Ferritin is the iron stored in our body, especially in the liver, spleen and bone marrow.
I recently suggested to a friend with these symptoms that she might want to consult with the doctor. A blood test revealed that he was so anemic that it was surprising that he could climb stairs.
A few iron pills solved the problem.
Different type of iron
Our bodies can not produce iron, so they have to absorb it from the diet, either from foods that contain it in a natural way or from those that are fortified with the mineral, as is often the case with some breads and cereals.
The problem is that not all that iron is in a form in which the body can use it.
In the BBC television program "Trust me, I'm a doctor", we asked nutritionist Paul Sharp, from King's College London, to identify the foods we should eat to naturally boost our iron levels.
Red meats, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds are good natural sources of iron. Getty ImagesRed meat is particularly rich in the type of iron our bodies can easily absorb, but today many people are reducing the amount of meat they eat or eliminating it completely from the diet.
Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage or cabbage, cabbage and spinach are also good sources of iron, and legumes such as peas and lentils are good sources of iron.
The problem is that our body does not absorb the iron of vegetables as well as meat.
And a third type of iron is what you can get from fortified breads and cereals, which, again, sometimes is not in the easiest format for our body.
In fact you can see that iron "added" with a very simple homemade experiment: after grinding the cereals and leaving them practically in powder, add a little warm water, let it rest and then with a powerful magnet you can attract the iron filings of the cereal.
With fortified cereals, orange juice better than coffee
How you prepare food and what you drink with your food can also influence the amount of iron you absorb.
To prove it, Sharp made several experiments that mimic human digestion.
The tests mimicked the effect of enzymes that interfere with the digestion of food and the chemical reactions that occur in the cells of the human intestine to show how much iron is absorbed.
Sharp showed that if you drink orange juice with your fortified cereals you absorb much more iron than if you eat them alone, because orange juice contains vitamin C, which facilitates that absorption.
And on the contrary, if you drink coffee with your bowl of fortified cereals in the morning, the amount of iron you absorb is significantly reduced.
Why? According to Sharp, it is because coffee is full of chemicals called polyphenols that are very effective at joining iron, making it less soluble.
So, if you eat fortified cereals, eating an orange or drinking an orange juice will increase your iron absorption.
And you may want to consider postponing your morning coffee until about half an hour after eating your cereal.
Cabbage and its relatives
The raw cabbage is a good source of iron but in the tests we saw that steam cooking reduces the amount of iron available, and boiling it decreases it even more.
Do you dare to eat raw cabbage? Getty Images That's because, like oranges, cabbage is rich in vitamin C, and when you boil it, vitamin C is released into the cooking water.
So if you want to get as much of the cabbage's nutrients as you can, better eat it raw, although it may be an acquired taste … or steam it.
The same is true for other vegetables that contain both iron and vitamin C, such as kale, broccoli, colifor or watercress.
The case of spinach
Interestingly, the case of spinach is the opposite: when we boiled it, it released 55% more "bioavailable" iron than when we ate it raw.
"Spinach has compounds, called oxalates, that essentially trap iron," explains Sharp.
"When we cook spinach, the oxalates are released into the cooking water, and so the remaining iron is easier to absorb."
The most "effective" bread
According to our tests, the type of bread that gives us iron in a more efficient way is that of sourdough or fermented.
Absorb more iron … what a good excuse to sink the tooth into a bread like this (if it is fortified). pidjoe / Getty Images That's because wheat contains a chemical called phytic acid that slows down the absorption of iron from our body.
When the sourdough bread is made, the fermentation process breaks that acid, so the remaining iron is easier to absorb.
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