We went to the pediatrician last Friday for John’s two year old check up.
While there, John has his blood tested for iron and lead. Good news – no lead problem. Bad news – he is low in iron.
Oh, and did I mention that my OB/Gyn also recommended that I take an iron supplement as my blood levels were showing a lowering of iron? Nice.
I think these two recommendations were my wake-up call that I need to focus on our diet once again.
A note: Through the exhaustion of late pregnancy and the craziness that has been our life lately as gypsies, we haven’t been as vigilant with John’s food intake. Especially with snacks. John has become a cracker fiend. And rarely wants anything other than oatmeal for breakfast (and I admit, it has rarely been soaked lately). To most it would seem that we feed John fantastic – and we do! He regularly eats whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, lots of dairy and cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds and dried fruit are some of his favorite treats, we work hard to avoid HFCS, MSG, soy/canola/cottonseed oils, artificial colors, white flours and white sugars, etc., but (in my mind) lately he’s been eating too much processed crackers and cereals and un-soaked whole grains. And he hasn’t been eating much meat, choosing instead to eat more of the vegetables or cheese or grain that is served, and I haven’t had the energy to fight it.
Everybody knows that we need iron in our diet. But it has become more apparent to me how important it is during pregnancy, breastfeeding and infant and toddlerhood. And how easy it is, especially during the above-mentioned times, to quickly lose one’s iron reserves (as the nutrients go toward building a baby, toward growing brain cells and gains in height and weight for a toddler, etc.)
My doctor recommended me to begin supplementing with ferrous sulfate, an inorganic iron. She also recommended me to get a stool softener as the iron supplements often caused constipation. Nice.
The nurse who called me with John’s blood results recommended simply adding a multi-vitamin with iron, “like the Flinstones brand” she said.
Ugh. Evidently she doesn’t know me yet.
If we are going to take an iron supplement, I’m looking for a natural, organic variety (not organic in terms of “certified organic” but organic in terms of iron found in foods versus inorganic iron) I’ve researched Floradix as an option (though it is made with non-heme iron, from vegetables, herbs and fruits) and am still looking for a good heme-based (meat-based, basically, which is more easily absorbed by the body) supplement. (Any recommendations?)
So as soon as I got home I began thumbing through the books I had on hand (especially Nina Planck’s new book real food for mother and baby), thinking about recipes and googling natural iron sources and supplements for toddlers. And brainstorming. And I think we have a gameplan.
What are we going to do? Eat. Iron. And lots of it.
In a nutshell,
The best, most easily absorbable iron is heme iron which is basically animal-based items. Red meat. Liver. Dark meat poultry. Eggs, especially egg yolks. Mollusks and shellfish. Salmon.
Non-heme iron sources are also good, though less absorbable and containing less iron, including legumes, dark leafy greens, dried fruit (especially prunes and raisins), nuts and seeds, artichokes and asparagus and, I’ve heard, watermelon and apricots. Non-heme iron sources are more easily absorbable when eaten with heme sources.
I’ve found information that whole grains and/or iron-enriched cereals are also commonly included as good non-heme iron sources, but I’ve also found other information that whole grains can inhibit the absorption of iron. For now, especially considering we’ve been eating a lot of grains and cereals and both of our iron levels are low, AND we’ve been considering going grain-free anyway, we are going to be swaying toward the latter mentality and eating fewer to no grains and increasing the meat and vegetables in our diet.
Both heme and non-heme iron sources are best absorbed when eaten with Vitamin C based foods and when NOT eaten at the same time as calcium based foods (God’s kosher guidelines seem to come in handy here! We’re not kosher, or Jewish, but quite a coincidence, yes?) as calcium makes iron less absorbable by the body.
Good information. But how are we going to use it? What are we going to eat?
I haven’t really eaten much liver in my life. I hate to say I don’t like it, because I don’t think I really know what it tastes like, but thinking about actually purchasing and preparing liver is a big step for me. My local Whole Foods carries frozen chicken livers by the pound from cage-free chickens (not the free-range, non-soy-fed chickens I’d prefer, but they’ll do for now as I try to find a better source) as well as frozen beef livers. I think I’m going to grind the beef livers and mix it with ground beef to make up some meatballs and meatloaf (which I know John loves) or maybe with a good chili (since legumes are also good sources of iron). We’ll see.
I was actually just mentioning this “great idea” of mine of mixing the liver in with ground meat to my dad this weekend and he said that they used to do that to us. Notably with moose or elk or venison liver or heart, sometimes with beef. I never knew. Never. Sneaky, sneaky dad!! He recommended, to completely mask the taste of the liver, to add 1/4 lb up to about 1/2 lb of liver to 3-4 lbs of ground beef.
I’m actually kind of excited about the chicken livers, because I’ve had Ina Garten’s recipe for chopped liver bookmarked for at least six or seven months and hadn’t yet had an occasion to make it. I’ve also found a few other good liver pate recipes (both for chicken and beef livers) and am thinking of trying them out too (doesn’t this one look fantastic?)
More Red Meat
Pot Roasts, Kabobs, Hamburgers, Meatballs, Meatloaf, Grilled Steaks.
Eggs and Egg Yolks
Scrambled and fried eggs. Frittatas. Eggs en Cocotte. Hard boiled eggs, deviled eggs, egg salads. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Egg yolks in mayonnaise and Caesar dressing. Egg yolks mixed in with a green smoothie. Eggs Benedict, a Salad Nicoise . . . And, what I think might become John’s favorite new dessert (and an occasional special breakfast or snack)
- Egg custards – especially those made with extra egg yolks and I’m thinking about substituting blackstrap molasses (also high in iron) for some of the sugar or maple syrup I find in a few recipes. Thinking these would be great for breakfasts some days, desserts or snacks. I even found a dark chocolate version (and the fact that half of this recipe post is in French makes me feel tres gourmande!)
Being an Alaskan, I love salmon. And so does John. I love grilled salmon for dinner, salmon as sashimi (soon! Soon!), smoked salmon on a bagel or breakfast pizza, salmon baked in parchment . . . but am just as happy buying wild, Alaskan canned salmon and making up salmon salad a few times a week for an easy lunch or dinner. For a special treat, we make my dad’s salmon log (which John became addicted to when we were there for Christmas!) – as mine is boxed away, he is sending me the recipe this week. . .
Dark Meat Poultry
Just continuing to make our biweekly or so roast chicken and buying chicken thighs (rather than breasts) when buying it by the piece. Plus continuing to make and use our chicken stock, which is full of great minerals, with said roast chicken carcasses.
Iron. On a Cracker.
John loves chicken, salmon and egg salads, (and I’m hoping pate and chopped liver!) so those are always easy . . . I’ll even allow him to eat a few of his treasured crackers if they’re topped with an iron-rich salad or spread!
Eating more Iron-Rich Vegetables and Fruits
See lists above. Thinking trail mix made with pumpkin seeds, almonds, raisins, dried apricots . . . and some chocolate (just because I love chocolate!) for snacks (and in my hospital bag!), similar to my grain-free granola. Continuing to eat kale, asparagus, artichokes, watermelon with breakfast or as a snack, legumes mixed in with meats (like my tacos). And one new thing I’m thinking about adding in to our diet, introducing . . .
Except I’m worried, because, historically, I do not like beets. They taste like dirt (so do catfish, for that matter). but I’m thinking if I mix it with a bit of cranberry juice, it just might work for me. It’s worth trying! Has anyone tried the Nourishing Traditions recipe? Anyone have a favorite recipe to share? Insight?
More meat, more eggs, more salmon, more greens, fewer (to none) grains, crackers and the rest. More iron. Any other recommendations or recipes?