Use Cast Iron Cookware as an Iron Deficiency Treatment

Iron deficiency is very common and can be dangerous if left untreated. One of the easiest options for iron deficiency treatment is completely natural and requires no supplements or dietary changes: cooking with cast iron cookware.

cast iron cookware

Cast iron pans usually come pre-seasoned, but they require special care.

© Elena Veselova | Dreamstime

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.[1] 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 Deficiency

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.[1] Your doctor can help you to determine whether or not you are iron deficient.

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.[2] One study found that there was an increase of 16.2 percent in the iron content of foods cooked in iron pots compared to those cooked in Teflon coated non-stick pots.[3]

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.[4] 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.”[2] 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.

[1] Nutrients. 2014 Sep 19;6(9):3747-76.
[2] J Food Science. 2002;67(9):3301-3.
[3] Indian J Pediatr.
[4] J Hum Nutr Diet. 2003 Aug;16(4):275-81.
[5] J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Oct;20(5):477-84.

Originally published in 2014, this post is regularly updated.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Chelsea Clark

Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience … Read More

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  • I started using cast iron a few years ago when I was anemic and will never go back. As a person with a sensitive stomach, I could not keep down the iron pills the doctors were prescribing for my anemia. So I started cooking with cast iron pans and using a natural plant based supplement called Floradix. The combination helped me to raise my iron levels and it was easy on the stomach! I highly recommend that combination for people who are having trouble digesting iron pills.

  • I’m back to using my cast iron pans and loving them. I have a helpful cleaning tip I learned while cooking a recipe that required deglazing: I use a small amount of cheap beer when the pan is crusty from cooking a dish and let it boil the crustiness right off. The pan comes out amazingly clean with a little scrape of a wooden spoon.

  • My wife was diagnosed a few month ago with animia. She had to have two iron treatments. Of course that brought her iron back up bUT I have kept it up by cooking I. All my old camping cast iron pots. Her hemagloin is still a 14 and holding. Can’t beat the easy-to-use cast iron. Now I even have her cooking in them.

  • There is nothing wrong with using soap to clean a cast iron pan if needed. It will do NO harm to the seasoning. With that said NEVER use steel wool to clean cast iron because that will damage the seasoning. I use, restore and sell old cast iron. If you have any questions email me I will be happy to share my knowledge of cast iron.

  • I am anaemic and I plan to start cooking in cast iron to help with this (in combination with other treatments). I don’t quite understand this seasoning business – I read on another website that pots with patinas or seasoning actually leach less iron into the food. What does the seasoning actually do for the pot – is it just for non-stick properties?

  • I have four cast iron skillets . I use at least one every day . One was my mother’s . It was a wedding gift to her 67 yrs ago . Hot water cleans it best . A little soap if need but never steel wool . I donate blood every 3 months. They always comment on my iron level being at 15. I didn’t know I was getting iron from the cast iron . I will mention that the next time I donate . I’ve been told that all good cooks use cast iron skillets. Good cooking and good health .

  • Food items that have sustained contact with the cast iron will absorb the most, especially soups and long-simmered tomato sauce. Although items like burgers, pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches may pick up some iron, short-term contact items such as these may not absorb enough to make the impact you are looking for.

  • My kidney doctor has recommended I use my cast iron since I am anemic and I have cast iron skillets that I have had for years but seldom use. They are well seasoned so that isn’t an issue. I’m from the south and was raised using them but I have been using non stick a long time and enamel cast iron which I’m sure would not help me. My question is that I have done some research and found that you need to cook the food for awhile to get any benefit, like soups and stews. Problem is most soups, stews and chilies that I cook for some time are made with tomatoes and tomato sauce and it’s my understanding you aren’t supposed to cook tomatoes or tomatoe based dishes in cast iron. Is this correct? I would appreciate any advise. Thank you

  • My Mom had 2 cast iron skillets she used daily to feed a family of 8. Now I have discovered the Lucky Iron Fish, made of cast iron, it was designed for 3 world countries to help children get the daily iron needed. the fish is 3×4 inches ling you put it into your soup pot and remove when the soup is done. You can even make iron enriched water/bevcerages. Google Lucky Iron Fish, it is made in Canada, costs about 25.00, you can use it daily, will last about 5 years . I still have cast iron skillets I cook with and also my Lucky Iron Fish.

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