bananas cooking in butter in a cast iron pan with a spoon

Cast iron pans – an affordable solution for Iron deficiency anemia? 

I have worked with many clients who are struggling with iron deficiency anemia – both men and women of various ages, socioeconomic status, lifestyles and food intakes. While it’s true that we can obtain iron from a number of foods, sometimes there are factors that can decrease iron absorption (along with other factors that increase iron absorption). I love suggesting cooking with cast iron to increase the iron content within your meals as I find that it is an easy, affordable strategy and doesn’t require you to change a whole lot. Let’s dive into iron deficiency anemia, cast iron and iron absorption a little more.

First –  Who is at risk for iron deficiency anemia?

 

Many factors can contribute to low iron levels, some of which can include (but are not limited to): 

 

  • Blood loss, from heavy menstrual bleeding or haemorrhoids.
  • Not absorbing enough iron, possibly from certain conditions impacting iron absorption such as celiac disease or crohn’s disease, or having gone through bariatric surgery
  • Not consuming enough iron from your food intakes (possibly from consuming a certain diet such as vegan or vegetarian, from living with an eating disorder, from living with alcohol use disorder, or from not having enough access to iron rich foods)
 
and…

What are some iron deficiency anemia symptoms?

 

I find that iron deficiency anemia is a tough condition because you might not notice that you have some of the symptoms, as they can present slowly and over time, making it hard to notice the change. Also, because the symptoms are sometimes quite vague, it can be hard to know that we need to make changes unless we see so in blood work. I am a huge advocate for getting regular blood work done. It gives us a baseline to go off of (what’s a “normal” iron level for you, for example) and for us to monitor changes. 

 

Low iron and/or iron deficiency anemia may present with the following symptoms, such as: 

 

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling dizzy or weak 
  • Having trouble concentrating 
  • Feeling short of breath 
  • Hair loss
  • Changes to nails 

 

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting your iron and ferritin levels checked. You can book with me to navigate these symptoms a little more.

Are Cast Iron Pans Good for Iron Deficiency Anemia Treatment?

There has been research to show that cooking with cast iron (or using “cast iron lucky fish” for dishes like soups, stews or sauces) can increase the iron content of your foods. When you’re struggling with iron deficiency anemia, it can be useful to increase the iron content of your foods in any way possible. 

 

It appears that you will likely increase the iron content of your foods the most when you’re cooking acidic foods – foods like tomato sauce or apple sauce – in cast iron pots. 

 

It also appears that a longer cooking time will also increase iron content of your foods cooked in cast iron – for example, cooking your scrambled eggs in a cast iron pan for 5 minutes instead of fried eggs in a cast iron pan which may cook in under a minute, possibly leading to less iron in the fried eggs from decreased cooking time. 

 

On a side note, please be mindful if you’re living with any conditions that may put you at risk of iron overload (such as thalassemia), in which case, you might want to speak with your dietitian and physician first before incorporating cast iron into your lifestyle. 

 

Remember, foods cooked at home can vary in iron content and absorption – factors that can impact iron can include substances from tea, calcium from milk or yogurt and foods with high fiber – all of which can decrease (non-heme) iron absorption. Alternatively, cast iron pans and Vitamin C rich foods can increase (non-heme) iron absorption. This is a reminder that variety within our food intake is key – and working with a dietitian can help you figure out what cooking methods and food combinations can help increase your iron intakes. Of course, there are plenty of foods we can work on incorporating to increase your iron intakes if cast iron isn’t your cup of tea – let’s chat! 🙂 

Resources

  • Feature photo by Aline Ponce from Pixabay 

  • BC, G. (2024, April 17). Iron Deficiency- Diagnosis and Management. Retrieved from gov.bc.ca: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/practitioner-professional-resources/bc-guidelines/iron-deficiency

  • Medicine, E. G.-I.-F.-F.-F.-I. (2024, April 17). Iron Deficiency Anemia. Retrieved from HealthLink BC: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthy-eating-physical-activity/conditions/anemia/iron-deficiency-anemia
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