Boosting Iron Intake with Beans

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency among Americans. It affects children and young women most often, but anyone can fall short of the RDA for this mineral. When iron intake is too low, the body can’t make enough red blood cells. The result can be fatigue, headaches and dizziness, among other symptoms.

Improving iron status can be as simple as adding a few servings of beans to your diet. Just one-half cup of navy beans, for example, provides more than 10 percent of the daily iron requirement for women.

But while beans are rich in iron, they also contain compounds called phytates that reduce iron absorption.

Phytates are antioxidants and they may have important health benefits. So it’s not bad to consume a diet that’s rich in these compounds. And fortunately, it’s easy to counter their effects on iron absorption. Pairing iron-rich beans with good sources of vitamin C is one simple way to improve iron absorption. Vitamin C severs the bond between iron and phytate, freeing up the iron for absorption. In some studies, simply adding vitamin C rich foods to diets without changing iron content of the meals was enough to improve iron status.

Good sources of vitamin C are peppers, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, tomato sauce, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, kiwifruit, honeydew melon, and strawberries.

Pairing iron and vitamin C can be as simple as enjoying a serving of steamed broccoli alongside your favorite bean soup. Adding vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables to bean recipes is another easy way to ensure that you’ll absorb as much iron as possible. Here are a few ways to combine vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich beans:

  • Drain a can of pineapple cubes and add them to canned baked beans
  • Toss cooked black beans with shredded cabbage in your favorite coleslaw recipe
  • Sauté red peppers and onions in olive oil and stir into white navy or Great Northern beans
  • Add any type of cooked beans to a massaged kale salad
  • Bake any type of cooked beans in a savory tomato sauce and serve over rice or pasta