Iron deficiency is alarmingly common and can cause dangerous conditions like anemia if untreated. About a quarter of the world’s population is anemic and many others are iron deficient. While many iron deficiency treatment options involve iron supplementation or dietary changes to include more iron-rich foods, an easy, effective way to increase your iron levels is to use cast iron cookware.
Iron is needed by to carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. A deficiency can be caused by excessive bleeding, inflammatory conditions, inadequate iron intake, and pregnancy. Iron deficiency symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, shortness of breath, weakness, pale color, headaches, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, and more. Iron deficiency can impair your physical work capacity, reduce your mood and cognitive function, put a pregnancy at risk, and lead to anemia. Your doctor can help you to determine whether or not you are iron deficient.
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Cast iron cookware – does it really work?
You may have heard that cooking with cast iron can increase the iron content of foods. But is this technique really able to help correct an iron deficiency? The research says yes. Several studies have shown that iron can be released into foods that are cooked in iron cookware. One study found that there was an increase of 16.2% in the iron content of foods cooked in iron pots compared to those cooked in Teflon coated non-stick pots.
Articles reviewing the available evidence suggest that the iron leached into food from cast iron pots translates into increased hemoglobin and iron concentrations in anemic or iron deficient people. Many studies combine iron-rich foods with cooking in cast iron, and the results show that iron levels can increase substantially.[1,5]
Researchers conclude that, “the use of iron pots is a cheap and sustainable way of providing a population with a sufficient iron supply.” This is good news for those who often don’t get enough iron in their diet, like vegetarians, and for those who don’t want to add another supplement to their regimen.
Tips for using cast iron
Correcting your iron deficiency may be as easy as using cast iron cookware to fry up pancakes, make a stew, or stir-fry vegetables. My family and I have a few different sizes of cast iron frying pans and use them regularly for most dishes. Cast iron pans usually come pre-seasoned, but they require special care. Avoid using soap to clean your cast iron; this 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.
To learn more about iron deficiency symptoms, how to diagnose it, and treatment options, read more here.
Share your experience
Do you have any tips for iron deficiency treatment? Do you use cast iron to cook? What are your favorite recipes? Share your experience in the comments section below.
Originally published in 2014, this blog has been updated.