When I was pregnant with my first child, my doctor prescribed iron (it looked like shark teeth) and told me that it would make me constipated. Being pregnant wasn’t challenging enough all by itself, right? Eat the right foods, and you’ll get what you need. The process isn’t exactly that simple, but the concept is. So why would I want to take something that was good for me but would probably harm me? I question that which seems innately wrong, especially when protecting my family, and I think about food more than the average person. So I researched the benefits of iron and learned that for it to be readily absorbed, iron needs a friend and that friend is vitamin C.

Iron is essential for energy, metabolizing, red blood cell function, and oxygen distribution. We get iron from eating plants (non-heme) (2-20%) and from meat (heme) (15-35%). You can see that when we eat a mostly plant-based diet, it’s even more important to include vitamin-C sources to be sure absorption is efficient. An added benefit is that Vitamin C reduces stress, acts as an antioxidant, relieves inflammation, and boosts immunity.

As caregivers, it’s essential to know these nutritional tidbits, but it’s also necessary to keep the lesson simple. Let’s say we serve an iron-fortified cereal or food like raisins, meats, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, or nuts, which are naturally high in iron, include a serving of oranges, strawberries, red peppers, or sweet potatoes.

Here are a few enticing “iron+C” combinations:

Spinach (iron) and diced strawberries (+C) or red peppers (+C). Drizzle with olive oil, vinegar, or lemon juice (+C).

Breakfast omelet with sautéed broccoli (iron), tomatoes (+C), and onions, fresh or dried herbs.

Spinach (iron) or kale (iron) smoothie blended with strawberries (or any “berry” edible fruit), oranges, mango, or pineapple.

Strawberries or oranges dipped in dark chocolate.

Sweet potato (+C) paired with chickpeas (iron) or tahini (iron).

Knowing which food combinations work best isn’t rocket science. With practice, pairings will become second nature. Get creative and do the best you can!

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