Episode three of the Garden of Vegan Educational Series addresses all things IRON!
So what is iron, are the myths around iron and meat true and what does this look like for the everyday Australian?
Dr Andrew starts this episode by reinforcing the fact that there is nothing you can’t get from plants than you can get from meat. Iron included.
He believes that as a society we have become so obsessed with all of the particular little details when it comes to our food choices and behaviours be it, macronutrients, micronutrients, how much sugar we consume, is it fat free, what about my carbs etc. All questions I’m sure we have found ourselves asking due to the influence of fad diets, false claims made by health professionals, clever marketing and generational beliefs passed down with no scientific evidence or research-based data to support them.
Dr Little believes we are simply just designed to eat. All the nutrients that our bodies need including iron, comes from plants. As a society, it is time to shift our focus from all the misleading and confusing details around our food choices and just eat real food. Eating seasonal, fresh, whole foods that are in abundance has been proven in many research studies to be the best diet and lifestyle choice for optimal health and vitality. Dr Little is a firm believer in solely eating plant-based foods based off of his personal experience which is supported by current science-based evidence.
In regards to iron specifically, there is a myth around meat and its direct correlation to iron. As a female reflecting on my own upbringing, I was told that I had to eat red meat to get iron. I was never informed until I did my own research that iron also comes in abundance from leafy greens. My family and I trusted what we herd, were subjected to the media's brainwashing and clever marketing.
Dr Andrew states that the irony is that iron is the 4th most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust. He also states that the majority of iron deficient people are not vegan. This tells me that iron is in abundance and it’s not related to adopting a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. The story I was fed about iron only coming from meat, just is not the case.
So what is iron? Dr Andrew explains that iron is an essential mineral. The body can’t make iron, it needs to be taken into the body in the form of food. Iron can be found in our soils which our food derives from. It is then converted into the plant as it is absorbed from the soil with the support of a chemical process, allowing us to consume iron direct from that plant.
Dr Andrew states that there are two forms of naturally derived iron. Heme iron and non heme iron. Heme iron comes from animal products and non heme iron comes from plants. Heme meaning haemoglobin. Why do we need iron, as humans, Dr Little continues to explain that we use iron to make haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is a protein in our red blood cells used to bind oxygen. Why do we need haemoglobin, in short, to deliver oxygen and produce energy for us to stay alive. In this process iron will be present in the form of myoglobin- found in muscles, haemoglobin- found in red blood cells, hemosiderin and ferritin- stored forms of iron determining if someone is deficient in iron.
Fun fact, iron levels in your blood are not indicative of iron deficiency.
Doctor Andrew also shares that iron is stored in our immune system, or in his words our reticuloendothelial system.
A symptom of iron deficiency become anaemia which means slow circulating haemoglobin, resulting in tiredness and fatigue because you are not getting enough oxygen to the body. You can also increase your chances of getting sick due to your compromised immune system if you are not absorbing enough iron.
Another fun fact, Dr Andrews wife Sarah was deficient in iron her whole life up until she converted to a plant-based diet. This is the same for Dr Andrews mother in law.
Who would have thought converting to a plant-based diet could reverse iron deficiency?
Dr Andrew affirms that approximately 80% of iron comes from non heme iron- direct from plants and whole foods, whereby 20% comes from heme iron being animal products. Heme iron is absorbed a lot quicker and more easily when compared to non heme iron however, it doesn’t necessarily mean this is a bad thing or the best source of iron. Did you know we don’t actually need as much iron as we have been led to believe.
Again, this comes back to the over complicated belief systems we have adopted around food due to clever marketing from the meat companies around iron and protein.
Dr Andrew explains other factors involved in the absorption of iron. This includes Vitamin C, citric acid and fibre. These nutrients have been proven to help increase iron absorption and all come directly from plants.
“You can get all the iron you need just from plants”- Dr Andew Little
So where does Dr Andrew get his iron from? Dr Andrew and his family get their plant-based sources of iron each day from green leafy vegetables, legumes and pumpkin seeds.
Dr Andrews smoothie each day contains spinach, kale and pumpkin seeds which are all rich sources of plant-based iron.
Dr Andrew confirms that yes per 100g you need to eat more spinach to get the same amount of iron from a piece of meat, however, we don’t actually need that much iron.
Whether you are eating a plant-based diet or not, you have iron in abundance around you. The issue may well be an absorption issue, more so than a lack of iron from meat or plants.
If you are deficient, Dr Andrew encourages you to seek medical assistance to figure out what the root cause of the deficiency is. For the rest of us, if we are eating a range of plant-based whole foods each day, we have nothing to worry about.
The old stories from my childhood about iron and meat are no longer.
For me, it is about taking back control of my health in making informed choices about what I consume, what I invest my time in and how I spend my dollar.
Using all of the information presented to me from a non-bias perspective, I can no longer be ignorant but informed and empowered when it comes to my health and the health of the planet.
If you want to learn more, stay tuned for the rest of the Garden of Vegan Education Series with Dr Andrew.