Beef Up Your Iron Intake Featured

Authors: Registered Dietitians

roast beef

( Lean beef is an important source of 12 essential nutrients including high quality protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins. Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide encourages Canadians to enjoy 1 to 3 servings of Meat and Alternatives, such as lean beef, every day.

Foods work together to supply you with the more than 50 nutrients that we all need everyday for good health. By focusing on quality, you'll be eating things in food that good beyond just fat, protein and carbohydrate. Go for nutrient-dense food choices as often as possible.

With respect to protein-rich foods, the Meat and Alternatives from Eating Well with Canada's Food recommends 1 to 3 servings each day; a serving of lean beef is 75 grams, or 2.6 ounces, cooked. This is not to suggest that this is the maximum amount; most who eat meat will have servings sizes at least twice that. The Food Guide is meant to serve as a guideline, dividing both the number of servings, and the serving sizes, of different foods across the four food groups to fit into an average calorie range of about 1800 for women and 2200 for men.

Iron and Teen Girls

Teen girls' iron requirements increase during adolescence due to the growth spurt and the onset of menstruation. Teen girls who do not eat any meat, but also fish or poultry need almost twice as much iron as girls who do; while not impossible, it can be more challenging to get enough iron from vegetarian diets since more iron needs to be eaten to make up for the poorer absorption from plant foods.

Iron and Adult Women

New recommendations for iron are 40% higher than in the past. They reflect a new understanding of the varying needs of iron among women.

A woman's iron needs are even greater during pregnancy, if they have recently given blood, if they use an intra-uterine device, have heavy losses during menstruation and for those women who restrict their meat, fish or poultry intake.

Men need iron too but not as much. Unless there's a medical  issue that results in a decrease of iron absorption or an increase of iron losses, men typically don't have to pay special attention to their iron intake.

Not all iron is created equal
Iron is found in different foods and in different forms and is not absorbed equally. Heme iron, found in meat, poultry, and fish is absorbed much better than the non-heme iron found in plants foods. For example, your body absorbs four times as much iron from a 90 gram, 3 ounce, serving of beef (cooked) than from a 175 mL (3/4 cup) serving of bran flakes. Red meat is one of the best sources of dietary iron.

Add iron enhancers!

Certain foods can enhance the body's ability to absorb non-heme iron. These include meat, poultry, and fish [something referred to as the meat protein factor, when animal foods are eaten with plant foods, the presence of the meat etc greatly enhances the absorption of iron from those plants]. Vitamin C also enhances the absorption of iron; Vitamin C-rich foods include bell peppers, papaya, oranges, broccoli, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe or potatoes to name a few.

Beef up absorption!

Go for heme iron!

Enjoy a variety foods like meat, poultry or fish on a regular basis. One serving of cooked meat in the Food Guide  equals 75 grams, or 2.5 ounces - just less than the size of a deck of cards. An easier visual reference for me when I'm counselling is the size of a computer mouse which is about 114 grams or 4 ounces.

Photo credit: Roving I

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