Getting enough Iron during pregnancy

I’ve been a most-of-the-time-vegetarian for about sixteen years.
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I eat fish and the occasional poultry, but no beef, no pork, no lamb.  And definitely no Anthony Bourdain-style seal eyeballs or still-beating cobra hearts.

So I have to keep careful track of certain nutrients that are harder to get without meat—primarily protein, iron and B vitamins.  Now that I’m pregnant with twins, my needs are that much greater, because the two lil’ tadpoles are robbing me of whatever nutrients I used to get through eating well.  It starts from inception, this self-sacrifice/mother’s-needs-come-last.

What does that mean exactly?

How much is enough?  Pregnant women need at least 27mg of iron daily, almost twice as much iron as a non-pregnant woman, because a mama-to-be is producing almost 50% more blood—blood that will be for the baby as well as to make up for what’s lost during and post delivery.

My initial panel of blood tests reported that I was anemic (iron deficient) and so I’ve been trying a few additional tricks to bulk up my supply.  The most basic thing I’ve done is to cook in my cast iron skillet, because the food actually absorbs some of the iron in the pan.  The next remedy is the old-fashioned molasses dose—apparently 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses supplies 20% of my (non-pregnant) daily allowance of iron.  And compared to many things I’ve tried, it goes down pretty easily… and stays down.

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One of my new favorite iron-rich foods (the label says 10% of my non-preggo RDA) is chocolate almond milk, but according to studies cocoa inhibits iron absorption.  But don’t even think for a minute that I’m giving up chocolate.  I just put almond butter on my whole-grain toast before chocolate consumption begins—that’s after 10am.  I’ve also tried pairing my iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C (satsumas, also known as ‘cuties’, are an especially sweet and easy choice this time of year) and trying to consume my bagels without cream cheese.  Other great sources of iron include green, leafy vegetables such as kale and parsley, beans, nuts, whole grains and, of course red meat.  But I haven’t ordered up a quarter-pounder just yet.

It may be that after my second trimester, I may have to start taking an iron supplement, or go for that big ol’ grass fed burger my friend keeps trying to tempt me with, but for now, I’ll try eating my way through.  Now that the morning sickness is fading, I’m suddenly ravenous.

cheeseburger with the stethoscope by Grant Cochrane

kale picture by Kittikun Atsawintarangkul