Lentils are among the richest plant-based foods in iron. A serving contains 6.6 mg of iron which is 37% of the recommended daily intake! But, as we absorb only a small percentage of it, better to follow certain diet tips to increase its bioavailability.
Health benefits of iron
Iron is vital for health. It’s a key component of hemoglobin; a protein of red blood cells that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.
Also, iron is essential for muscle metabolism, healthy connective tissue, energy metabolism, cellular functioning, physical growth, neurological development, and the synthesis of some hormones, amino acids, and collagen.[1,2]
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, though! It may lead to serious side effects, such as gastrointestinal disturbances, impaired cognition, weakened immune function, fatigue, and low body temperature. Moreover, iron deficiency during pregnancy may increase the risk of premature delivery, and miscarriage.
How much iron do we need a day?
The recommended daily intake of iron is 18 mg for women of reproductive age, and 27 mg for pregnant women.
Adult men and women older than 51 years require only 8 mg of iron a day.
As women require high dosages of iron, they may have a hard time meeting their daily needs from food. They may benefit from taking a dietary supplement.
You’ll find a wide variety of iron supplements on iHerb.
What’s the iron content of lentils?
Lentils are among the best plant-based sources of iron. Cooked lentils contain 3.3 mg of iron per 100g. A serving contains 6.6 mg of iron, which is 37% of the recommended daily intake!
Eating beans boosts the iron intake. They help us meet our daily needs.
Which variety is richer in iron?
The main categories of lentils are brown, green, red, yellow, black beluga, and Puy. Brown lentils are the most common variety.
Black beluga and Puy lentils are tiny black lentils. They’re 1/3 of the size of brown or green lentils. Puy lentils are grown in the volcanic soil of a region in central France called Le Puy.
All common lentil varieties have a similar iron content. Only beluga lentils are slightly richer in iron. They may have approximately 8% more iron than other lentil varieties.
Moreover, beluga lentils are richer in antioxidant compounds than other common varieties. They’re particularly high in phenolics.
You can find a wide variety of lentils on Amazon.
Do we absorb the iron of lentils?
Although lentils are pretty rich in iron, we absorb only a small percentage of it. The iron bioavailability of lentils is low. We absorb about 2.2% of the iron in lentils.
However, the absorption rate depends on many factors. For instance, people who are deficient in iron absorb much more iron than people with healthy levels.
How to increase iron absorption?
Lentils have low iron bioavailability due to their high phytate concentrations. They have significant amounts of many other anti-nutrient compounds, like tannic acid, and polyphenols as well. These compounds inhibit the absorption of minerals, like iron.
A simple way to increase the absorption of iron in lentils is to soak and rinse them. Soaking and rinsing of beans reduce the concentrations of the compounds that inhibit iron absorption. These compounds leach into the water.
Other beans high in iron are chickpeas. Soaking can increase their iron absorption up to 2.6-fold.
Furthermore, we could increase the absorption of iron by eating plenty of foods high in vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption!
Common foods high in iron as well as vitamin C are kale and spinach.
Animal-based foods, like meat, poultry, and seafood, also enhance iron absorption.
Moreover, high amounts of calcium might reduce the bioavailability of iron. Hence, better to avoid consuming too much milk and dairy with foods containing iron.
In any case, healthy people, who follow a well-balanced diet, probably get more than enough iron. After all, there are many foods high in iron.
Other foods high in iron
Actually, you could drink certain fruit juices to boost your daily iron intake.
We absorb between 5% and 12% of iron from plants. In contrast, we absorb about 18% of iron from animal-based foods.
Why should we eat lentils regularly?
Lentils are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and many other bioactive compounds.
Due to their unique nutritional value, lentils may reduce the risk of many diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, cancers, cardiovascular disease, as well as many degenerative diseases.
Also, lentils can help us lose weight and decrease body fat. They regulate appetite, as they’re particularly high in protein and fiber, containing only a few calories.
Lentils are also great for dinner. They support a good night’s sleep.
How to eat lentils for boosting Iron levels?
Here are 10 healthy and easy lentil recipe ideas to increase iron intake. Combining lentils with animal protein and vitamin C could significantly improve iron absorption rates.
- Turkey lentil stuffed peppers: Combine cooked lentils, ground turkey, and a mix of veggies. Stuff bell peppers and bake until tender. Bell peppers support weight loss. Among others, they’re among the richest foods in vitamin C.
- Chicken lentil curry: Simmer lentils with chicken, tomatoes, and curry spices for a flavorful and protein-packed curry.
- Salmon lentil salad: Toss cooked lentils with flaked salmon, fresh greens, cherry tomatoes, and a zesty lemon vinaigrette.
- Egg and lentil breakfast burrito: Scramble eggs with cooked lentils, wrap in a tortilla, and add your favorite toppings for a hearty breakfast.
- Spinach lentil soup: Create a nutritious soup by combining lentils, spinach, and aromatic herbs for a comforting meal.
- Pumpkin seed lentil patties: Form lentil and pumpkin seed patties, pan-sear until golden, and serve with a side salad.
- Lemon garlic lentil pasta: Toss cooked lentils with whole-grain pasta, sautéed spinach, and a zesty lemon garlic sauce.
- Turkey lentil meatballs: Combine ground turkey, lentils, and herbs to make flavorful meatballs, perfect for pasta or sandwiches.
- Chicken and lentil lettuce wraps: Sauté lentils with ground chicken, add your favorite spices, and serve in lettuce wraps for a light and satisfying meal.
- Egg and lentil salad bowl: Combine hard-boiled eggs, cooked lentils, and a variety of veggies for a nutritious and filling salad.