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Five Things You Need to Know About Iron (Especially if You’re Vegan)

Last year I became a blood donor. I donated three times over the course of the year. It takes up very little time and is hugely rewarding. Apart from the ‘feel- good-factor’, there is another benefit, which is that my iron levels are routinely checked. This involves a globule of blood being dropped into a test tube. If it sinks, you’re fine. If it floats, you’re anemic.

On each occasion last year, my blood sank like a stone, but last week, I was shocked to see my little blob of blood float about on the surface like a languid sunbather on an lilo. Anyway, the upshot was that I was sent to visit my GP.

A few days later, after another blood test, the doctor confirmed that my iron levels were a bit low. Not much – but a bit. This diagnoses sent me into a frenzy of research to find out how I could sort the problem out. After all, there must be something lacking in my diet if I’m short of iron. Here are five things I discovered from my research: 1. Iron comes in two forms. Heme, from meat, which is easier to absorb. Non-heme, from plants, which is trickier to absorb. (If you’re vegan, like me, you’ll be relying on the non-heme stuff, so a little more care might be needed.) 2. A vegan diet can leave you short of B12 leading to Pernicious Anemia. B12 can be found in Nutritional Yeast, Marmite and in fortified non-diary milk, but it’s best to take a supplement just to be on the safe side. 3. The best sources of non-heme iron are leafy green vegetable, pulses and nuts. 4. Caffeine inhibits the absorption of iron, so avoid caffeinated drinks around meal times. 5. Vitamin C aids the absorption, so make the most of the iron sources in your food by serving them with foods rich in Vitamin C such as sweet potato, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach or peppers. Alternatively, drink a glass of orange juice or eat a fruit salad for dessert containing oranges, kiwi and pineapple. And of course, if you’re fit and healthy and able to do so, please consider becoming a blood donor. Apart from making you feel good about yourself, it’s a simple act of kindness that could save somebody’s life.