JSB and A MEATY Difference of Opinion: 2
My blog series response to the recently published letter in the Napier Courier, written by Fiona Greig, the nutrition manager for beef and lamb New Zealand Inc.
Fiona writes that “Not all iron is equal, with non-haem iron from plant based foods having a lower absorption rate than haem iron from animal foods (5% vs 25%). As an example, eating just a 120g lean beef steak provides the same iron as an enormous 3kg of spinach. This provides over a third of a women’s daily iron needs”.
These comments are interesting for a few reasons.
Firstly; New Zealand women have one of the highest intakes of red meat in the world. New Zealand women also have very high rates of iron deficiency (as tested and reported by many government surveys). So if red meat is such a good source of iron then why are so many women who are eating red meat iron deficient?
Iron absorption is about far more than just iron-rich foods. Iron absorption depends on other food constituents such as vitamin C, fibre and B vitamins and the healthy pH levels in the gut. The only sources of vitamin C and many other crucial nutrients essential for iron absorption, are in fruits, vegetables and freshly grown sprouts.
It’s a myth that vegetarian diets are low in iron. Research has continually shown that vegetarians with a balanced diet are no more likely to suffer from iron deficiency or anemia than meat-eaters. Rural Chinese, eating a high-fibre vegetarian diet, have an average daily intake of 34mg iron. Americans, eating a low-fibre meat-heavy diet, have an average daily intake of 18mg iron. In almost every possible measurement the rural Chinese are healthier than the average Westerner.
Iron anemia decreased during both World War I and World War II when there were widespread red meat shortages. Generally, the higher your good quality, plant-based wholefood diet is, the more iron you will get. Foods that help maintain a low pH in the stomach (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar) also enhance iron absorption. Every cell in the human body contains iron and it is very unlike other minerals. Unless a person bleeds, iron stays in the system (in red blood cells) for around three months and is then reused in younger red blood cells.
Iron uptake is really all about your gut health
Your microflora needs to be healthy and balanced to absorb iron effectively. A vastly increased iron bioavailability comes down to foods that feed prebiotics and probiotics to the bowels. What are the very best foods that do this? Raw, sprouted or fermented plant wholefoods. Every time Trey (my eldest son, 24) or I give blood, we always get the comments “Your iron levels are so good, have you just eaten a steak?” and I always say, “Actually we do not eat meat, I have not had any for 30 years now…” Copper is also critical to the transport of iron throughout the body.
Fresh sprouted legumes are ideal as they are full of healthy prebiotic and probiotic components, rich in iron, copper, digestive enzymes and vitamin C, and are very easy for the body to absorb. I have a handful of iron-and-vitamin C-rich sprouts most days on my lunch. I stopped eating meat at the age of 18, almost 30 years ago, as part of rebuilding my digestive system. I completely cured all my ‘incurable’ illnesses and transformed my health.
My Granny Amy gave up all processed foods and animal products in 1930 at the age of 23, and she lived another 81 years in near perfect health until she died of old age at 104 - without disease or drugs. She outlived her own-aged meat-eating peers – by as much as 40 years. She was initially ridiculed and laughed at by the “experts”, all of who “knew better than she did” and all of whom said “you need meat to be healthy for the iron, protein and essential nutrients”.
They all died years before she did.