Iron Utensils for Anaemia: Does It Help?
General Nutrition • • minute to read • By INFS, INFS Faculty
Iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) is a common condition that affects people worldwide, particularly young children and pregnant women. Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to cells, and low levels of iron can lead to fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
While nutritional interventions such as iron supplements and fortified foods are commonly used to combat IDA, the use of cast iron cookware is a traditional household strategy that has been shown to increase the iron content of certain foods. However, this method of cooking also has side effects that should be considered. In this article, we look at the best practices of cooking in iron utensils. We also look at what else you can do if you have an iron deficiency.
What Is Iron and Why Is It Vital For Your Health?
Iron is a mineral that is essential for human health. It is a key component of haemoglobin, the protein molecule in red blood cells that is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body.
Benefits and Functions of Iron
Besides the production of haemoglobin, iron is important for other physiological processes:
- It aids the production of DNA and the regulation of cell growth and differentiation.
- It plays a critical role in oxygen transport, which is necessary for the proper functioning of tissues and organs throughout the body.
- Iron is also important for maintaining healthy immune function and supporting cognitive development and function.
What happens if you have an iron deficiency?
When the body doesn’t get enough iron, it can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, a condition in which the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells or haemoglobin to carry oxygen efficiently.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia can include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and pale skin. In addition to these symptoms, iron deficiency can also impair muscle function, reduce immune function, and affect cognitive performance.
What causes iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency can occur for several reasons, including inadequate dietary intake, poor absorption of iron from the diet, and increased iron requirements due to growth, pregnancy, or blood loss.
Some iron-rich foods that can be included in your diet
Iron is found in a variety of foods, both plant-based and animal-based. Here is a list of iron-rich foods that readers can incorporate into their diet:
- Red meat (goat, lamb, pork)
- Poultry (chicken, turkey)
- Fish (tuna, salmon, sardines)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
- Tofu and soy products
- Nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews)
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, fenugreek)
It is important to note that the body absorbs iron more easily from animal-based sources than from plant-based sources.
Vitamin C for Iron Deficiency?
When you consume plant-based sources of iron, the iron is in a form that is more difficult for the body to absorb. However, when vitamin C is present in the same meal, it helps to convert the iron into a form that is more easily absorbed by the body. This means that by including vitamin C-rich foods in your meals, you can increase the amount of iron that your body is able to absorb.
Some examples of vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Including these foods in your meals can help enhance iron absorption from plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, and leafy greens.
Cooking with Iron Utensils
Iron utensils have been used for cooking for centuries. In recent years, people have rediscovered the advantages of using iron utensils, especially its ability to increase the iron content in food.
Benefits of cooking in iron utensils
Increased Iron Content in Food: Iron cooking vessels can leach a significant amount of iron into the food, which can increase the iron content of certain foods. Studies have shown that cooking in iron utensils can significantly increase the iron content of foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes,
Improved Iron Absorption: The iron from iron utensils and vegetables is in non-heme form, which is not absorbed as well as heme iron from animal sources like meat or eggs. However, adding foods rich in Vitamin C, such as tomatoes or lemon, can greatly increase iron absorption.
Durability and Versatility: Iron utensils are durable and can last for years. They are versatile and can be used on stovetops, ovens, and grills. They also distribute heat evenly, making them ideal for cooking various types of food.
Cast Iron vs. Iron: Cast iron utensils are a popular choice for cooking, but they are not the same as pure iron utensils. Cast iron utensils are made by pouring molten iron into a mold, while pure iron utensils are made by forging or casting solid iron. Pure iron utensils are generally thinner and lighter than cast iron utensils.
Cooking Tips for Iron Utensils
Here are some tips on how to maximize iron absorption when cooking with iron utensils. Iron utensils are a great way to increase the amount of dietary iron in your meals, but there are some things to keep in mind to ensure that you get the most out of this cooking method.
Cooking Acidic Foods In Iron Utensils
Acidic ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegar can help to release iron from the utensil. This means that when you cook acidic foods in an iron utensil, more of the iron is released into the food, making it more available for your body to absorb. However, it is important to note that highly acidic foods should not be cooked in an iron utensil for extended periods, as this can damage the seasoning of the utensil.
Cooking Moist Foods
Cooking moist foods in iron utensils can also increase iron absorption. This is because moisture helps to break down the food and release the iron. So, when cooking with iron utensils, it can be beneficial to use cooking methods that involve moisture, such as stews, soups, or braises.
Seasoning Your Utensils
Lastly, it is important to keep your iron utensils properly seasoned and cared for. This helps to prevent rust and ensures that the utensil lasts longer. To maintain the seasoning of your iron utensils, avoid using abrasive cleaning materials and never soak them in water. Instead, use a stiff brush and hot water to clean the utensil, and then dry it thoroughly.
By following these tips, you can maximise the amount of iron that is absorbed from your food when cooking with iron utensils, and ensure that your utensils last for many years to come.
Side Effects of Cooking with Iron Utensils
While cooking with iron utensils has benefits, prolonged use can also have some side effects that should be considered.
- Iron Overload: Excessive iron intake can lead to iron overload, a condition in which there is an excessive buildup of iron in the body. This can cause organ damage and increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Cooking with iron utensils can increase the amount of iron in your diet, which can be beneficial for people with iron deficiency anaemia but can also be harmful if you are consuming too much iron.
- Damage to Seasoning: Iron utensils can leach iron into acidic foods, which can damage the seasoning of the utensil. Seasoning is a layer of polymerised oil that is formed on the surface of the iron utensil. This layer creates a non-stick surface that is easy to clean and prevents rusting. Cooking acidic foods in iron utensils can cause the seasoning to break down, leading to rusting and an uneven cooking surface.
- Food Taste: Cooking in iron utensils can sometimes change the taste of food, especially acidic or highly seasoned dishes. This is because iron can react with certain foods and alter their flavor, resulting in a metallic taste. However, this is not always the case and can be avoided by proper seasoning of the utensil and careful selection of the foods being cooked.
To prevent these side effects of iron utensils, it is important to maintain a balance between iron intake and potential side effects. It is also important to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet and to follow proper care and maintenance guidelines for your iron utensils. For example, it is best to avoid cooking acidic foods for prolonged periods in iron utensils or using a separate non-reactive utensil for such foods. Additionally, it is important to season iron utensils regularly to maintain their non-stick properties and prevent rusting.
Iron deficiency anaemia is a global health problem, and various nutritional interventions are implemented to combat it. Using iron utensils for cooking is a traditional household strategy that has been shown to increase the iron content of certain foods.
While iron utensils benefits are numerous, it is important to be aware of the potential side effects of iron utensils, including iron overload and damage to seasoning. Therefore, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet and to maintain a balance between iron intake and potential side effects.
- Are there any other ways to increase iron intake besides using iron utensils?Yes, there are many ways to increase iron intake, such as consuming iron-rich foods, taking iron supplements, and consuming foods high in Vitamin C to enhance iron absorption.
- Can using iron utensils be harmful to people who are not iron-deficient?Iron utensils are generally safe to use for people who are not iron-deficient. However, prolonged use can lead to iron overload, which can be harmful to overall health.
- Is it safe to use iron cookware for pregnant and lactating mothers?Yes, iron cookware is safe to use for pregnant and lactating mothers, and can be a good way to increase iron intake. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that your iron intake is adequate and safe for your specific situation.
- Are there any precautions that need to be taken when using iron cookware?Yes, it is important to season your iron cookware properly and avoid cooking highly acidic foods in them for prolonged periods to prevent damage to the seasoning and leaching of iron into the food. Additionally, it is important to ensure that your iron intake is balanced and not excessive, as excessive iron intake can lead to iron overload and other health issues.
- Can using iron cookware cause iron deficiency?No, using iron cookware is unlikely to cause iron deficiency, as the amount of iron that is leached into the food is generally not significant enough to cause iron overload or deficiency. However, it is important to ensure that your overall diet is balanced and contains adequate amounts of iron and other essential nutrients.
- How do I properly care for my iron cookware?To properly care for your iron cookware, it is important to season it properly and avoid using soap or harsh detergents to clean it. Instead, clean it with hot water and a brush or scraper, and dry it immediately to prevent rusting. Additionally, it is important to store your iron cookware in a dry, cool place to prevent rusting and damage.
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