Articles

Why Iron Is Important and Where to Get It

Most of us have been told to make sure we get enough iron, and have been warned about the risks of an iron deficiency. That said, few people can tell you exactly why their body needs iron, and what foods are the best to get it from. 

Iron is a naturally present mineral necessary for the functioning of hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. 

“As a component of myoglobin, another protein that provides oxygen, iron supports muscle metabolism and healthy connective tissue. Iron is also necessary for physical growth, neurological development, cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones,” per the National Institutes of Health

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for elemental iron depends on age, sex, and other factors like whether you consume animal products. For the average adult age 19 to 50, it’s recommended that females consume 18mg of iron, and men the same age consume 8mg.

A shortage of iron in your blood can lead to a variety of health issues. Roughly 10 million people in the United States have low iron levels, and half of these people have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, per Medical News Today. Iron deficiency is the leading cause of anemia in the United States, and is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies, per Eatright.org

Symptoms of an iron deficiency include fatigue, pale skin and fingernails, weakness, dizziness, headache, and an inflamed tongue, known as glossitis. Since iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to the muscles and brain, it is critical for mental and physical performance. While a lack of iron may cause brain fog, irritability, and reduced stamina, proper iron intake can boost athletic performance. 

Eating a balanced, healthy diet is the best way to get enough iron, although iron supplements can be helpful. For vegetarians, it’s beneficial to combine iron with vitamin C in the same meal. For example, a juice with lemon and spinach would be ideal. This is because when iron comes from plant sources, it is called non-heme, as opposed to heme iron, which comes from animals, and there are multiple steps the body needs to absorb it. The RDA for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher than for meat eaters. 

Some of the best plant-based sources of iron include beans and lentils, tofu, dark chocolate, baked potatoes, cashews, dark leafy vegetables like spinach, and fortified grains. Be sure to consider components of food and medications that block or reduce iron absorption, including phosphates in carbonated beverages like soda, and tannins in coffee, tea, and some wine. 

Individuals who are the most at risk of iron deficiency include pregnant women, since increased blood volume requires more iron to drive oxygen to the baby and growing reproductive organs. Making sure infants and young children have enough iron is also crucial, as after six months, babies’ iron needs increase. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding, frequent blood donors, people with cancer, or those with heart failure, gastrointestinal disorders, and other health issues, should also be more cautious of their iron levels. 

It’s important to note that too much iron has been shown to increase the risk of liver cancer and diabetes.

To make sure your body has a sufficient level of iron, first discussing the topic with your medical professional is advised.


How to Reset Your Diet and Cleanse Your System

There are a wide variety of reasons that you’d want to “reset” your diet, whether it be to cleanse after a weekend of unhealthy eating, or to reduce cravings for things like sugar and caffeine. While many of us jump straight to extreme diets and restrictive detoxes, they are typically short-lived and may end up increasing our stress and frustration. The good thing is, there are plenty of ways to reset your diet without going on an all-water fast. 

Some of the best foods to eat when you are trying to flush your system are those high in fluids and fiber. Most fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds, land in these categories, and can help speed up digestion. If bloating is the issue, anti-inflammatory foods such as cucumber, bananas, papaya, and asparagus are great ideas. 

To clean out your system without using harsh laxatives, you can drink warm water with magnesium citrate powder, or sip on an herbal laxative tea before bed. 

Cleaning out the pantry and fridge may also be helpful for a full diet reset. Give away, compost, or donate any food that is either expired or will not make you feel healthy and happy. Restock with your feel-good staples. 

While a diet reset does not require a salt water flush, it is still important to drink more water than normal. According to Allison Gross, M.S., RDN, CDN, and founder of Nutrition Center, you should aim for 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day to help get rid of unwanted materials in your system, as cited by Mind Body Green. A nice hack for remembering to drink water is to carry around a refillable water bottle. Plus, you’ll help eliminate plastic waste. 

Sugar is the toughest item for many people to cut out of their diets. Experiments with lab rats have supported the notion that sugar is more addicting than drugs such as cocaine, per The Huffington Post. While it may be hard, especially in the beginning, eliminating processed sugars will allow you to appreciate the sweetness of natural, whole foods, such as berries and sweet potatoes. 

It’s always smart to have a support system and other incentives to stay on a healthy track. 

“I like to hold myself accountable by sharing about it on social media and put a reward in place for when I complete the cleanse. During my cleanse, I stock my kitchen with everything I need and make sure I'm prepared whenever I leave the house, and practice daily mindfulness (two minutes of meditation a day can aid in making rational choices, being more in touch with your feelings, and will improve your willpower),” says Sophie Jaffe, founder of Philosophie Superfoods. 

Ultimately, as you start to get better sleep, increase your confidence, have more energy, less bloating, clearer skin, and more focus, you will feel momentum to continue treating your body well. That said, be sure to forgive yourself for slip ups, and give yourself credit for your wins.


Why You Should Add Jackfruit to Your Diet

With more studies revealing the health risks and detrimental environmental impact of a meat-centric lifestyle, many people are choosing to transition to a plant-based diet. Even if you’re taking small steps at first, such as a “Meatless Monday,” you probably don’t want to sacrifice the taste of your favorite foods, and you definitely want to make sure that you get the proper nutrients. 

This is where jackfruit comes in. The exotic fruit is native to Southern India, and has grown in popularity as many vegans and vegetarians use it as a meat substitute. Instead of buying more expensive and more heavily processed meat alternatives like the recently popular Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers, you can substitute for a raw fruit without compromising taste. The fruit, known for its fibrous texture similar to that of meat, is used in a variety of dishes, and can take on the flavor of its seasonings and sauces. 

The sweet fruit has a distinctive flavor, described by some as a cross between a banana and pineapple, and similar to “juicy fruit” gum. 

Jackfruit has a low glycemic index and provides fiber and antioxidants that promote better blood sugar control. The antioxidants in jackfruit, such as Vitamin C, carotenoids, and flavanones, protect your cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. The phytochemicals in jackfruit may help counter the effect of free radicals, per the American Institute for Cancer Research. These free radicals are highly reactive molecules that occur naturally in the body and can damage cells, leading to chronic diseases and cancer.

According to Medical News Today, animal studies suggest that jackfruit seeds may work to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol and increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good” cholesterol. 

Jackfruit beats most other fruit in terms of its protein content. It provides more than 3 grams of protein per cup, compared to 0 to 1 grams in other similar fruits. One cup of raw, sliced jackfruit also contains 157 calories, 2.84 grams of protein, 1.06 grams of fat, 38.36 grams of carbohydrates, 729 mg of potassium, 22.6 mg of vitamin C, and 2.5 grams of dietary fiber. 

Simply googling “jackfruit recipes” will give you more options than you can sort through. I recommend Minimalist Baker's easy spicy jackfruit taco recipe to get started. 

As jackfruit becomes more mainstream and finds its way to restaurant menus across the country, the product is available at a wider variety of grocery stores. Many specialty supermarkets and Asian food stores sell jackfruit fresh, canned or frozen. Canned jackfruit, available at retailers such as Trader Joes, may contain syrup or brine. For people who want to try out jackfruit, but who don’t have the time to cook, stores including Whole Foods Market sell pre-cut and seasoned jackfruit, if you’re willing to pay the extra for it.


Blue Apron

Blue Apron makes incredible home cooking accessible to everyone by providing access to well-balanced meals without the stress of meal planning. Blue Apron delivers recipes and high-quality ingredients to your door. They’re shipped in refrigerated boxes with each ingredient perfectly measured and ready for cooking for two, three, or four meals (depending on the plan). Blue Apron is a weekly subscription service with no commitment - you can skip a week or cancel at anytime with a week's notice, and delivery is always free. Available in most of the country. For more information, click here.


Green Chef

Green Chef is the certified organic home-delivered recipe option. From wild-caught salmon to GMO-free soybeans, Green Chef ingredients are fresh and sustainably sourced—no synthetic pesticides, no genetically modified organisms, no artificial ingredients, no growth hormones or antibiotics. It offers eco-friendly packaging, insulated, refrigerated boxes and flexible delivery days. Skip weeks when you want to. For more information, click here.


Plated.com

This is a variation on the Blue Apron theme—delicious, nutritious meals delivered to your door, ready to prepare. It costs a bit more but some report that it offers better variety and packaging but that it is not quite as detailed in the instructions it provides. Like Blue Apron, ingredients include peak-season produce, meats raised without antibiotics and artisanal specialty items. For more information, click here.


The Anti-Inflammation Cookbook: The Delicious Way to Reduce Inflammation and Stay Healthy

Recent research reveals that inflammation has a negative impact on general wellness and can worsen many common health conditions including migraines, diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders. Eating certain foods and avoiding others can be an effective way to diminish and manage inflammation. This cookbook explains which foods are beneficial and why and includes 65 delicious, simple inflammation-busting recipes. For more, click here. 


MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is a mobile app and website with a wide range of tools for tracking what and how much you eat, and how many calories you burn through activity. Rated one of the 25 Best Fitness Apps of 2016, MyFitnessPal is easy to manage, and it comes with the largest database of foods and drinks.