Beans as ‘cheap, effective blood tonic’ – Have you been told that your iron levels are low? Have you been diagnosed with iron deficiency, also known as anaemia? Or are you a pregnant woman that needs to boost your blood level? Whichever case, daily intake of beans can offer a rich supply of iron.
In a new study, researchers found beans contains a type of iron, making it a source of a cheap and effective iron supplement. They said the type of iron found in beans could be processed into an alternative dietary iron source for the treatment of iron deficiency.
Beans is available in many varieties, from kidney, lima, white, black to deep-red beans. Not only are they all rich in iron, they are also high in protein and a good choice for anyone looking for a good non-meat source of these nutrients.
The research team wanted to find out if there was a way in which iron, taken from peas in the form of a protein called ferritin, could be absorbed more effectively.
The ferritin was extracted and tested in cells designed to mimic the stomach and then again under pH conditions closer to neutral – comparable to the body’s small intestine.
The results, published in the Journal of Nutrition, showed that when the ferritin was exposed to acid conditions, it breaks down and the iron is released. It then behaves like other plant-derived iron with only small amounts being absorbed.
According to researchers, “these results show that the iron from ferritin could be absorbed by the small intestine by an alternative mechanism to plant-derived iron if the stomach acid pH is avoided. This means that, in the right conditions, the ferritin could be a very effective dietary supplement.”
Oxidative stress generated by ferrous iron salts has been proposed as one of the main reasons for gastrointestinal intolerance – a side effect that native pea ferritin might avoid as it produces less reactive oxygen species (ROS).
The technology already exists that would enable us to produce coated capsules that could effectively transport the ferritin through the stomach and into the intestine where it can be absorbed.
Iron is a mineral that serves several important functions, its main being to carry oxygen throughout your body and making red blood cells. Interestingly, the amount the body absorbs is partly based on how much has been stored in the body.
A deficiency can occur if the intake is too low to replace the amount lost every day. Iron deficiency can cause anaemia and lead to symptoms like fatigue.
Those who may be at risk for iron deficiency include preterm infants, young children, teenage girls, and pregnant women, as well as people with certain health conditions including chronic heart failure, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and ulcerative colitis.
Supplements are taken by people with low iron levels to prevent fatigue, shortness of breath or dizziness, but are also poorly absorbed by the body. However, they contain quite high doses of iron, this can lead to side effects such as stomach pain or constipation.
Generally, food is a good source of iron and the various forms of iron present in food differ in their bioavailability. Its best sources are meat, fish and seafood. It contributes usually about 10 and 15 per cent of daily intake of iron.
There are multivitamin and iron-only supplements that contain mainly ferrous and ferric iron salts. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends food fortification as a way to increase iron intake. Many food products, including cereals, are fortified with this microelement in different doses.
What’s more, studies have shown that beans and other legumes can reduce inflammation in people with diabetes. Legumes can also decrease heart disease risk for people with metabolic syndrome.
Additionally, legumes may help lose weight. They’re very high in soluble fibre, which can increase feelings of fullness and reduce calorie intake.
In one study, a high-fibre diet containing beans was shown to be as effective as a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss. In order to maximise iron absorption, consume legumes with foods high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, greens or citrus fruits.
Luckily, other good food choices to help in meeting daily iron need include spinach, shellfish, liver and other organ meats, red meat, and pumpkin seeds. Spinach can be eaten daily cooked or raw. However, cooked spinach does contain more iron content than fresh spinach.
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