Women cutting lemons with lucky fish on the side
Healthy living,  Nutrition

Natural Iron Deficiency Treatment – Cast Iron Skillet

Running low on iron?

First thing you do is probably ordering some iron supplements. But it actually is not the best solution. I’ve got something better for you! It’s natural, cheap, easy and does not cause constipation like most of the iron supplements. The best natural iron deficiency treatment is cooking in a cast iron cookware.

Hard to believe? There are lots of research in this area (on people, not mice) and they have shown that iron can be released into foods that are cooked in iron cookware. Moreover, this method is completely safe and is known since the Egyptian era.  What is more, cast-iron heats and cooks your food evenly, you can use it in the oven or on the stove, and, if it’s properly seasoned, it works just as well (if not better) than a teflon non-stick skillet.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency is very common and can be dangerous if left untreated. This micronutrient, iron, is very important, because it carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. It also helps to maintain healthy hair, skin, and nails.

A deficiency can be caused by excessive bleeding, inflammatory conditions and inadequate iron intake. It is more common among women. The following groups of people are at highest risk for iron-deficiency anemia:

  • Women who have heavy periods
  • athletes who are losing extra iron through sweat
  • vegetarians, vegans, and other people whose diets do not include iron-rich foods
  • pregnant women are – when you’re expecting, you need extra iron to nourish your growing baby
  • People who have undergone bariatric procedures, especially gastric bypass operations
  • Children who drink more than 16 to 24 ounces a day of cow’s milk (Cow’s milk not only contains little iron, but it can also decrease absorption of iron

Mild iron deficiency anemia often isn’t noticeable. When it gets more severe, you may have symptoms like unexplained generalized weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, Pounding or “whooshing” in the ears, cold feet and hands.

Iron-deficiency anemia is diagnosed by blood tests. During your yearly check up (yes, you should check yourself every year) the doctor should order a complete blood count (CBC) and sometimes other additional blood tests.

For anemia your doctor will be interested in the levels of the red blood cells contained in the blood (hematocrit) and the hemoglobin in your blood. Normal adult hematocrit values vary from one medical practice to another but are generally between 40 and 52 percent for men and 35 and 47 percent for women. Normal adult hemoglobin values are generally 14 to 18 grams per deciliter for men and 12 to 16 grams per deciliter for women.

How it works?

So cast iron cookware release iron into foods during cooking. If you combine iron-rich foods with cooking in cast iron, iron levels can increase substantially.

Acidic foods that have higher moisture content, such as tomato sauce, absorb the most iron. Unfortunately it will react with the iron in a way that creates a metallic flavor. It’s not dangerous, but I personally don’t like it.

Food cooked for longer periods of time absorb more iron than food that was heated more quickly in shorter period of time. Also, newer iron skillet release more iron than those cooked in an older one. What is more, foods that are cooked and stirred more frequently absorb greater amount of iron because they come into contact with the iron more often. 

Tips for using cast iron skillets

My family and I have a few different sizes of cast iron skillets and use them regularly. Cast iron pans usually come pre-seasoned, but they require special care. Avoid using soap to clean your cast iron, because it can ruin the seasoning. Use steel wool or a plastic scraper to clean your pan instead. Finally, make sure to dry it completely after washing, as it can rust easily. Dry with a towel, or heat up on the stove to evaporate the water.

Wooden or silicone utensils are preferable, so you won’t damage the pan’s surface.

Baked Skillet Cake

If your skillet needs a seasoning

It’s not hard to do it yourself! To season it, all you need to do is wipe the whole thing down with a thin layer of a neutral oil, like canola or vegetable, until the pan no longer looks greasy. Then, set it in an oven upside-down so the oil doesn’t pool and let it bake at 500 degrees F for about an hour. When it’s cooled off, wipe it down with another layer of oil before you store it—that way it’s less likely to get rusty.

What you can do more?

As a clinical dietitian I need to say that it is also crucial to increase the consumption of iron-rich foods. The heme iron is better absorbed by the body than nonheme iron. It can be found in meat, seafood, poultry and eggs. The best iron-rich foods for vegetarians and vegans are lentils, beans, tofu, amaranth, oatmeal and dark chocolate (yay!).

Pairing vitamin C with your meal gives non-heme iron a boost, You should eat more vegetables, especially bell peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower . Also fruits have a high vitamin C content: oranges, kiwfruiti, and grapefruit.

Drinking coffee or tea with a meal can greatly decrease iron absorption, therefore it is best not to drink them within one hour of mealtime.

It doesn’t hurt to try out this natural iron deficiency treatment

Even if you don’t have anemia, you can increase you iron consumption by cooking in cast iron skillet. You can buy a 10-inch skillet for less than $15 (say whaaat?).

If you don’t use pans or don’t cook at home too much, you can get the Lucky Iron Fish. This fish shaped cooking tool is recommended to make iron-infused drinking water and water to make grains, oatmeal, smoothies and juices. Add the fish to soups, sauces, stews and so much more for a natural and safe dose of iron.

Avoid the side effects of iron supplements such as constipation, nausea, and upset stomach and try the natural iron deficiency treatment – iron-rich diet and cooking in cast iron skillet!

You can try out my skillet recipes:

Whole-Wheat Skillet Pear Ginger Cake

Ground Turkey Cabbage Skillet

Do you have any tips for natural iron deficiency treatment? Do you use cast iron to cook? What are your favorite recipes? Share your experience with me!