Week 21: iron and pregnancy

food rich in iron for pregnancy

Wow! Time has flown so quickly this week. We just had to leave our first Airbnb in Halifax and will stay in another place for three days before moving in a new unfurnished rental. That’s a lot to deal with but one thing at a time, we’ll do it step by step. Also this week, I’ve definitely got bigger, by a bit more than 1 pound and a half. It’s somehow irregular but the overall weight gain is still in the acceptable range for week 21.

Even if I wasn’t so much willing to take supplements (except for folic acid and omega 3), I’ve also started to take prenatal vitamins as recommended by the doctor during my last appointment. Last blood test already showed an insufficient iron level to cover the needs until the due date. And I get why now. For an adult, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (IOM, 2006) for iron is about 14 mg per day. During pregnancy, this is doubled to 27 mg per day and may be even more for multiple. I’ve made my research  and it’s almost impossible to reach that goal every day with a regular diet. That’s why you either have enough iron stock to cover the needs during the whole pregnancy or like most pregnant women, you’ll have to take iron supplement. Anyway, it’s still great to look for iron source in food even if you take supplement. You may picture Popeye right now eating his spinach can. And it’s true spinach is a great source of iron. But not necessarily the richest.

Lets have a look to the list of the best foods to eat to increase your iron level:

Foods that contain a combination of heme and non-heme iron
FoodIron in milligrams per 100g
liver (not recommanded during pregnancy)10-30 mg
heart, kidney4-9 mg
oyster, mussel5-7 mg
blood pudding5 mg
beef1.5-3 mg
Shrimp2 mg
Sardines2 mg
Lamb1.5-1.8 mg
Chicken1 mg
Pork0.5-1 mg
Fish (such as salmon, trout, halibut, haddock, perch)0.5-1 mg
Foods that contain only non-heme iron
FoodIron in milligrams per 100g
spirulina, seaweed30-150 mg
dark chocolate12 mg
millet flakes9 mg
legumes (such as beans, lentils, chickpeas)6-8 mg
tofu2-7 mg
oatmeal4-6 mg
buckwheat3.5 mg
nuts2 – 4 mg
brown rice1.7 mg
some vegetables (such as pumpkin, artichoke hearts, peas, potatoes, spinach)1-2 mg
eggs1.8 mg
whole wheat bread1-2 mg
whole wheat pasta1-1.5 mg

As you’ve seen, the list is made of two tables. The first one highlights the best foods containing both heme and non heme iron and the second, foods only containing non heme iron. Heme, non heme, what’s the difference? Studies tend to show that heme iron is better assimilated by the body than non heme iron. That’s why it’s best to keep eating different foods from both categories and why it’s more difficult to cover the iron needs in a vegetarian diet.

To illustrate that, let’s try to make a menu for one day to meet the objective. We’ll start by having some oatmeal for breakfast, getting about 3 mg of iron. Then, we’ll have tofu, spinach and brown rice for lunch. We’re reaching 11 mg of iron. Then, we opt for snack made of a square of dark chocolate and a bunch of nuts. We’ll be at 13 to 14 mg of iron. And to finish, we’ll eat a lentil dal for dinner. This makes a total of 20 mg of iron. That’s good! Very good in fact. But still, we’ve picked only foods rich in iron for all our meals and we still didn’t meet the goal of the 27 mg of iron recommended.

Now, something that I found intesting is the high percentage of iron contained in spirulina. And it looks like it’s well assimilated too. So having a teaspoon of spirulina every day might be a great way to increase your iron level. I’m wondering if some of you already tried it for that purpose? I’d be curious to know how efficient that was. Natural food is always the best way to feed your body with high quality nutriments. So it would be worth digging.

More information on iron and nutrition:

Weight of the week

  • Week 20: 136 lbs (61,5 kg)
  • Week 21: 137,6 lbs (62,4 kg)

Calorie counter of the week

  • Total calories: 14,623
  • Average calories/day: 2,089

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