Friday, August 29, 2014

Are you getting enough Iron? And a recipe for Caribbean-Style Rice & Black Bean Salad

Iron is an essential nutrient, meaning we must eat foods containing iron to get the iron our body needs or we become iron deficient.  Iron has many important roles in our body, the most important being its role in transporting oxygen throughout the body and getting rid of carbon dioxide.  Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen throughout the body and helps our cells produce energy.  If we don't get enough iron in our diet, we may be tired, weak, and feel cold.   

How much iron do we need daily?

Gender and Age                    Iron DRI 

Males, 14-18                           11 mg
Males, 19                                8 mg
Females, 14-18                       15 mg
Females, 19-50                       18 mg
Females, 51 +                          8 mg

Which foods are good sources of iron?

Iron in food exists as two types, heme and non-heme. Animal foods such as meat, fish and poultry provide heme iron, which is the type of iron that is most easily absorbed. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods, like dark leafy greens and beans.  Non-heme iron isn’t as well absorbed as heme iron, although you can get enough iron in your diet solely from plant sources.  If you eat a primarily plant-based diet, just be sure to eat a variety of iron-rich foods, including beans and vegetables, dried fruits, dark molasses, and enriched whole grains and cereals.  Note that corn and cow’s milk are both poor sources of iron. 

What happens if we don’t get enough iron?
If our bodies don’t absorb enough iron, we become iron deficient.  Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body’s iron stores are so low that the body can’t make normal red blood cells.  Symptoms include fatigue, pale skin and fingernails, weakness, dizziness, headache and inflamed tongue.

Who is at risk for iron deficiency?
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have more blood volume, which requires more iron to transport oxygen to the baby and growing reproductive organs.
  • Young children have increased iron needs.  When babies are born, they have enough iron stores for six months.  After six months, their iron needs increase.  Breast milk and iron-fortified infant formula are good sources of iron.  Cow’s milk is a poor source of iron. 
  • Adolescent girls are often at risk because of restrictive diets or not eating a diverse number of foods.
  • Women with excessively heavy menstrual periods may develop iron deficiency.
What can I do to increase iron absorption from food?
  • Eat a varied diet.  If you don’t eat meat, choose a variety of plant-based foods to ensure you meet your iron requirements. 
  • Vitamin C helps you absorb the iron in plant foods (especially important for vegetarians), so include a good source of Vitamin C in your meals.
  • Proper stomach acid aids in iron absorption, so try not to take antacids.
To help you start fulfilling your iron needs, here is a simple recipe for a Caribbean-style grain salad with black beans.  The salad gets its flavor from cooking the rice in a sofrito--the blend of onion, garlic, peppers and herbs essential to Latin cooking.  

Caribbean-Style Rice & Black Bean Salad

Serves 10 - 12

1 medium onion, cut in large dice
2 garlic cloves
1 bell pepper (red or green), cored and diced
½ bunch cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 cups long-grain brown rice
4 cups water
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 jar green olives with pimientos, drained
zest and juice of two limes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

First, make the sofrito by putting onion, garlic, bell pepper, cilantro, cumin, coriander, cayenne and sea salt in food processor or blender.  Process until very smooth.

Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat.  Add rice and toast for 3 – 5 minutes, or until rice starts to ‘pop’ like popcorn.  Add sofrito mixture to the rice and stir.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and cover.  Cook for about 50 minutes, or until rice is done.  Remove cover and fluff with a fork.  Let cool completely.

Add cooked rice to a large mixing bowl with the black beans, tomatoes, red bell pepper, olives, lime zest and juice, olive oil and cilantro leaves.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.  

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