Iron has been a challenge for me most of my life. Keeping my blood levels high by regulating my diet has been both a chore and a delight as a vegetarian and as woman. It’s gotten easier over time. It is going to get even easier very soon.
Women, starting at puberty, need 15 mgs daily. When I became a vegetarian, I was warned to watch my iron levels. Of course, these were the early, brazened days of the vegetarian movement. We were still learning to feed ourselves in an American world of hamburgers, meatloaves cooked in ketchup and gravy served with fries.
Taking out meat meant substituting protein for cardboard-flavored meat substitutes. The seasoning and dietary of wisdom of vegetarian societies of Asia were slowly taking root in Western shores. As a newly hatched vegetarian, I had a copy of Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook and a frozen bag of gardenburgers.
This served me well until I got pregnant. I had a low iron count for the first time in my late 20s. My diet had to become more organized and varied. I added squashes and beans. My iron levels rose. My cooking skills improved.
Over the decades, I learned to add more spices and cuisine styles. Dishes from India, China, Japan and Thailand adorned my table. I dragged my grandmother’s cast iron pans out of storage. I added more greens. The vitamin C helped me absorb and utilize existing iron in my food.
Occasionally, I got sloppy and my iron levels would dip. I have a weakness for carb-heavy snacks. A smart person would moderate her diet. Fortunately, I don’t have to be smart. (Well, not all the time.) I can rely on my herbal friends: nettle, alfalfa, strawberry leaf and kelp.
All of these herbs have high iron levels with enough vitamin C to metabolize it. When I start looked a little pale and it is off to the tea cabinet. After menopause, women need less iron – only 8-10 mgs a day. 10 mgs of iron for woman who has juggled spinach, pumpkin seeds and brewer’s yeast for the past 3 decades. The next few decades will be a breeze.