To Flexitarians, Vegetarians, and Vegans
After a few years of being a flexitarian, or semi-vegetarian, as Wikipedia calls it, I've noticed something: I'm tired a lot. Especially around that time of the month. And also around that time of the month, I crave red meat like nobody's business. (Please, readers, read on! I promise I won't get any more personal than that!)
But here's what: This month, I've had more energy than ever, and I didn't feel lethargic once. And I was never ravenous for red meat. I wondered and wondered about it until it hit me: I ate lots of meat this month -- mostly in the form of New York's finest USDA Prime. Thanks to a surprise visit to see my sister and a couple of posh steakhouses, I had more red meat than I usually have in two months! Add to that a few fish filets and some burgers in Austin, and I got all the iron my body could want. "It still doesn't make sense," I thought. I eat so much spinach. SO much spinach. And beans, too! And hummus, too! And fortified cereals!
It all came together on Saturday, though. I felt like a medical detective. I was talking with my pregnant sister about her low iron count and how that was not good for the baby, and one Internet search led to another, and I found myself on this gem of a page: The CDC's Iron and Iron Deficiency. Let me tell you what I learned.
- Iron from meat, poultry, and fish is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than iron from plants. So even though there is twice as much iron in soybeans than in ground chuck, for example, the body doesn't use all of it. Unless . . .
- You eat certain types of food in the same meal. What are those types of food? Iron-rich meat, poultry, and fish AND foods containing vitamin C!*
- Some substances, such as polyphenols, phytates, calcium, and some drugs, can reduce the amount of iron absorbed at a meal.
- Iron is so important in infant motor and mental function, that if a baby can't drink breast milk for some reason, he should drink iron-fortified formula.** At 4–6 months, the CDC recommends feeding babies pureed meat!
Basically, the takeaway lesson is this: If you don't eat much meat, and your main source of iron is plant-based, make sure you drink orange juice with your meal. Or have some cantaloupe. Or broccoli. Or a Kakadu plum, which is found in Australia. All of these foods are rich in vitamin C.
(I sometimes wish I had finished my bachelor's degree in biology. I'm forgetting the things I held so dear once upon a time—how ion channels work, how to read an EKG, or what happens in the Krebs Cycle. Just the other day, a friend was telling me about RNA, and I was sad I couldn't follow along as well as I would've liked. I think I'll buy a biology textbook before the semester is over . . .)
*Someday I'm gonna make a greeting card for my future husband that reads, "We go together like iron and vitamin C!"
**See? Sometimes processed foods are necessary!
Thing I'm thankful for: natural scientists