iron in a vegan diet

The first year I was vegan, I noticed a huge change in my immune system. When I used to get sick maybe once a year, I started to get sick constantly. If I got too little sleep, I got sick; if I went out for a night on the town, two days later I had a cold; if I was around sick people, I too got ill. I was so frustrated – one of my objectives being vegan was to be healthier, but it was obvious that I was missing something. When I got sick, it was annoyingly consistent: it would start with a sore throat and a ‘feeling’, then would move into my head and sinuses, and would finish with sneezing and general ickiness. It would last approximately four days, and at least one of those I needed to be in bed. For a working gal like myself, that wasn’t very acceptable to miss work, plus it was exhausting!

Being the vegan I am, I decided to tackle each cold with an all-natural onslaught of everything I could possibly think of: nedi pot, aromatherapy, fresh made juices, dry brushing, cold wet socks, and an insane amount of leafy greens and superfood vegetables. While I did manage to lesson some of the symptoms, it would not cure it. How could I be eating what I consider to be balanced and incredibly healthy diet, and still be getting sick?

Iron. Again, I’m not a nutritionist, but I believe a lack of iron is what was making the difference for my body. Iron plays a critical part in human immune function by carrying oxygen to all parts of our bodies. I got my iron levels checked, and I was near anemic. It’s not that I wasn’t conscious of trying to get iron – I ate broccoli, spinach, beans, tofu, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds… you name it, I was trying to incorporate it into every meal. I made sure I ate it with Vitamin C (which helps absorb non-heme iron in foods better) and not having caffeine with my meals (prevents absorption). There was still a couple of problems though: I would have to eat a lot to meet the daily requirements (33mg for women my age), and non-heme iron (from non-animcal sources) can more difficult to absorb.  Check out the Vegetarian Resource Group for tables on iron content in veg based food – it’s an excellent resource for finding out the best foods to increase your iron consumption.

The world works in mysterious ways, and in September this year I took a flight for work where I ended up siting next to a woman who was a Holistic Nutritionist and worked for a supplement company. After an hour on that plane, I was convinced an iron supplement could work for me (with the nasty side effects of clogging up discharge system that iron is so infamous for). New Chapter products are organic, non-GMO, and whole foods, and the company is concerned about the impact we’re having on the environment and takes steps to ensure they’re producing their products sustainably.  The difference between them and conventional vitamins is that they are a whole food – our body knows how to process and use what it’s made of.  Conventional vitamins can be made of synthetic materials and chemicals – not so easily absorbed by our body. So it does matter what brand you choose – do your research. I’m convinced on New Chapter iron, because I haven’t been sick since I started taking it! Despite the holidays, despite the extra sugar, less sleep, more wine and busy times, I have not even had a tickle in my throat! This is huge for me – I figured out what my body needed, I don’t have to feel restricted on what I want to do with the fear of getting sick after, and I’m more productive because I’m spending less time sick. Success!

My mantra is that it is always important to listen to my body – so if something isn’t working, I need to figure out what the underlying cause is. I’m glad I can check this one off the list!

There is so much to say about the importance of iron other than its influence on the immune system that I wrote about today, but that would be more of a book, not a blog post. Maybe I’ll tackle women and iron, or energy and iron in another post…

Until then 🙂

xo Kristin

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One thought on “iron in a vegan diet

  1. I guess it all depends on where someone starts. Before going vegan I was sick several times a year and now I am rarely sick. The only thing I have a problem getting enough of is vitamin D but that is common where I live and I now take a supplement. Iron wasn’t a problem for me at all. But I think the important thing for all of us is your mantra to always listen to what our bodies are telling us.

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