A Look at Iron

I don’t know if any of my followers have actually ever noticed this, but I can be a bit of a smart-ass.

For instance, on a recent picture a friend shared on Facebook, there was a sign that said “Beer, now cheaper than gas! Drink, don’t drive!” And a particular friend of hers said:

“Ben Franklin said that “Beer was a gift from God.” Perhaps, this represents what happened when the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “What this country needs right now is a drink.” Chill out. Relax/ Buy American.”

The man has a point. But my smart-ass had to butt in with:

“Except the quintessential American beer, Budweiser, is now owned by the Germans.”

It is, by the way. The Germans bought it from us, because we can’t keep hold of anything of ours.

Anyway, I pulled another one of those out recently. My smart-ass comments. The friend’s status message was:

“Ladies: Pretend for just a moment that you’re pregnant with a baby you want to have, by a man whom you deeply love. Imagine what you would do for your health. Would you quit smoking? Eat more vegetables? Exercise more? Stress out less? Take time off to be with family? … Why wait to be pregnant to take excellent care of yourself? Why not do those things starting today?”

Now she has a good point. I wasn’t arguing that. But my dumbass comment went along the lines of “I’m not eating liver until I’m pregnant. You can’t make me.”

The reason for this comment was based on my family history. See, most women in general have a bit of an iron deficiency. And when you’re pregnant you need twice as much iron. So most women end up taking iron supplements. My mom didn’t want to take the supplements so she went so far as to start doing things like eating liver, which has a high iron content.

Again, I write this as kind of a smart-ass thing. One of the responses however, was this:

“Guys, iron from animal sources is not nearly as usable to the body as iron from dark leafy greens… not even close. You can also get some raw organic Aloe Vera juice, which is naturally loaded with Iron, Calcium, and Vitamin C.”

Sigh. I hate stuff like this. Mostly because the logic ignores what science has already told us.

(Side topic: It’s very hard to find the scientific research online as the keywords used tend to pop back more…opinionated websites rather than non-biased articles. For instance, simply by searching for “Meat vs vegetables” on Google, you have to go to the second page, all the way at the bottom before you find research from the Mayo Clinic. It takes until the third page before you find a study from Harvard University. Everything before is stuff like mensfitness.com or fatfree.com or ecosnobberysucks.com. Yourlifesource and bodytweaking and all stuff that doesn’t even reference scientific studies. They just spout things that they call “facts” and nobody realizes it’s all hot air.)

Back to the science. When looking at how the body absorbs iron, Harvard has a really good article and graph on that. In particular it says that iron is immediately oxidized to the Fe3+ (or the insoluble ferric form) state no matter it’s original form when taken in orally. So, whether that iron comes from an animal, a vegetable or a pill, the body immediately oxides it into the insoluble form. Now, it also has a bunch of very dense language about the pH balance and gastric acid and how it all works to absorb iron. But it does mention hemes as well.

Hemes (bear with me here) is a prosthetic group (a tightly bound cofactor) that consists of an iron atom contained in the center of a large heterocyclic organic ring called a porphyrin. Hemes are most commonly recognized in their presence as components of hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood, but they are also components of a number of other hemoproteins.

Well these hemes are absorbed by different machinery than inorganic iron. The process is more efficient and is independent of duodenal pH. This makes meat the iron that the body processes better. The science says that Heme B (the most common kind of heme) is the thing in hemoglobin (both hemoglobin and myoglobin are examples of oxygen transport proteins that contain heme B) and hemoglobin is what makes blood red. So anything that has blood (read: meat. Especially red meat) has heme B and heme is the iron more efficiently absorbed by the body.

Permit me a small cheer: Boo-yah!

So yeah, scientifically proven that our body absorbs iron better from red meats than from vegetables.

Besides that idiotic uninformed comment, my friend types a comment underneath it:

“See what***** said? Totally true. Kale, Chard, Collards, Spinach, Chia Seeds, Cocoa Beans, Amaranth (this one is a cooked item), Broccoli, Sprouts — Those are efficient ways to get iron.”

Okay, now I have to check this out. Because you can’t tell me what I know isn’t true and expect me to believe it. So I went and looked up nutrition facts. There’s this fantastic little website that’s amazing for that. I looked at serving sizes, iron content and protein content for the hell of it.

Here’s the nutrition facts for liver (specifically braised beef liver.)

A serving size of liver is 68g. In that serving size you can find 4.4mg of iron and 19.8g of protein.

So that’s what we’re starting with. That’s our stable comparison item. Everything else will be compared to what’s in that braised beef liver.

So the first veggie she mentioned was kale. The nutrition facts for raw kale are as follows:

Serving size is 67g. In that serving size you can find 1.1mg of iron and 2.2g of protein.

So comparing kale and liver, you have about the same serving size. That’s good. However, in order to compare the iron, you would need to eat literally four times as much kale to equal the amount of iron in liver. That’s a lot of kale. 268g of kale to be precise. Just to equal the amount of iron in one serving of liver. That doesn’t count the protein. There is 17.6 more grams of protein in one serving of liver than there is in one serving of kale. That’s like 8 times more protein.

Next veggie mentioned was chard. The nutrition facts for raw chard are as follows:

Serving size is 36g. In that serving size you can find .6mg of iron and .6g of protein.

Okay so this is a smaller serving size. Doubling that to 72g is more comparable. Of course we could half the serving of liver to compare as well. So let’s do both. Doubling the chard gives us 1.2mg of iron and 1.2 g of protein. Chard has less to compare with than kale. Again, this is already doubling the serving of chard to begin with and you’d need to quadruple that amount to find the same amount of iron that you would in liver. In fact, you would need to eat 216g of chard to get almost as much iron as one 68g serving of liver. You’d end up with 4.2mg of iron compared to liver’s 4.4mgs. That’s about 5-6 times as much chard as liver. If you halved the liver serving (to 34g) you would still have 2.2mg of iron compared to the .6 in chard (so you’d still have to like triple the serving to get the same amount) and that doesn’t even count the huge protein discrepancy. Doubling the chard serving only gives you 1.2g of protein and liver has 19.8g of it. That’s a LOT more protein. You would have to have 10 times the chard (the original serving) to get 6.0g of protein and that’s not even half of the protein in liver. 360g of chard would not give you half the protein in one 68g serving of liver. Halving the serving size of the liver gives you 9.9g of protein. Ten times the chard gets you closer this time, but you still have 3.9g of protein to make up.

Third veggie was collards. Raw collards have a nutritional value that looks like this:

Serving size is 36g. In that serving size you can find .1mg of iron and .9g of protein.

Wow, so collards have less iron in the same serving size that chard. Which means you…wow. So there’s only .2mg of iron in 72g of collards. In order to compare to the 4.4mg of iron in liver, you would have to eat 44 times the amount of collards. You would literally have to eat 1,584g of collards to match one serving of 68g of liver. Ouch. That number is enough to make me ill. I don’t think anyone could eat that much collards. Even halving the liver serving, you would need to eat 22 times the amount of collards to match the 2.2mg of iron in a half serving (34g) of liver. The protein comparison is a little better than that of chard however. You have 1.8g of protein in a double serving of chard compared to the 19.8g of protein in one serving of liver. But…10 times the amount of collards (that’s 10 times the doubled serving) would be what gets you close to the amount of protein in liver. And that would only get you up to 18g. Halving the liver to 9.9g is still not enough as you would still have to eat 10 times the amount of collards (or 360g) to get to 9g of protein.

It’s not looking good for the veggies in terms of getting the most bang for your buck, so to speak.

The next veggie was spinach. The nutritional facts for spinach is as follows:

Serving size is 30g. In that serving size you can find .8mg of iron and .9g of protein.

Even doubling the serving size leaves us about 8g short of the serving of liver but it’s close. That would give us 1.6mg of iron and 1.8g of protein. The iron for this is way better than collards, at least. That was just sad. But it would still take about 5 times the amount of spinach to equal the amount of iron in liver. So you would need to eat 150g of spinach to get about the same amount of iron in one 68g serving of liver. And even then you’re only coming close (4mg compared to 4.4mg.) The protein looks about the same as it does for collards. Ten times the amount of spinach (or 300g) would get you about half of the amount of protein as one serving of liver. So about 20 times the amount of spinach (or 600g) would give you about 18g of protein. You’d still be missing 1.8g.

You would get sick trying to eat this amount of veggies just to equal the one small serving of liver. Not to mention that your body would expend far more energy trying to digest all that then it would digesting the liver (and we know that liver has blood which makes it easier for our bodies to digest anyway.)
Then they mentioned chia seeds. Oy vey. Okay chia seeds, dried have nutrition facts like this:

Serving size is 28g. In that serving size you can find 4.4g of protein.

First of all, the dried seeds were the only facts I could find. Though I suppose that is the way the raw foodies would buy them anyway so that makes sense. Secondly, I found out that one serving of chia seeds has a negligible amount of iron. You would have to eat like 20 times the serving amount for the iron to even register. You couldn’t eat enough seeds to match liver’s 4.4mg of iron. It is the best of the proteins so far. 4 times the amount of seeds would get you close to the 19.8g of protein. 5 times would put you over (at 22g.) So you’d only need to eat 112-140g of seeds to get the same amount of protein. So, great protein but sucks ass at iron.

I couldn’t even find nutrition facts on cocoa beans themselves. Mostly because they don’t really sell the beans, just the powders. And you’d have to be more specific about the dry powder. Unsweetened is a given but whether or not it’s processed with alkali needs to be known.

Then there was this Amaranth thing. My friend mentioned it as the one cooked item but you can find it raw. However, I found it cooked two ways:

Cooked amaranth grains have a serving size of 246g. In that serving there is 5.2mg of iron and 9.3g of protein.
Cooked amaranth leaves have a serving size of 132g. In that serving there is 3.0mg of iron and 2.8g of protein. (The leaves are boiled and drained without salt.)

Well, they are certainly bigger serving sizes than the liver. Quadrupling the liver serving to 272g also quadruples the iron and protein content. See, here’s the thing. One serving of amaranth grains does have more iron. By about .8g. So making the servings even gives liver 17.6mg of iron. It’s an advantage when you look quick. But you’re eating much more of the amaranth than the liver for only .8mg more. And it still doesn’t compare to the protein. You would have to double the amaranth grains to 492g to get 18.6g of protein. So a small advantage in iron but no advantage in protein and it’s a bigger serving. Now, for the leaves. You have to double the liver serving to 136g for them to be about even. And even in that bigger serving, there isn’t more iron than in the liver. There’s actually 1.4mg less. So you would have to eat more than one serving of the amaranth leaves to get that amount of iron anyway. Not to mention it also has less protein than the grains. You’d need to eat 7 times the amount of amaranth leaves (about 924g) to get the same amount of protein (19.8g) in one 68g serving of liver. Lemme tell you, I don’t think I’d have the time in the day to eat that much of anything.

Broccoli was also mentioned. Raw broccoli has nutrition facts that look like this:

Serving size is 91g. In that serving size you can find .7mg of protein and 2.6g of protein.

It’s a larger serving than liver and has less iron than a smaller portion of kale or spinach. Obviously not an effective source of iron. You would need to eat 6 times the amount of broccoli (546g) to get almost the amount of iron in one serving of liver. Again, that’s coming close. You would get 4.2mg of iron from that much broccoli and liver has 4.4mg. It does better in protein though. Seven times the amount of broccoli gives you 18.2g of protein and liver still has 19.8g. That’s a lot of broccoli.

Obviously veggies are not what we should be using as a primary source of iron. A secondary source, yes. It could add to what we should already be getting from meats like liver. But we process meat better than veggies and it has a significantly higher amount of iron than the veggies do, time and again. Unless you’re consuming thousands of grams of veggies in a day. There are about 453.6g in a pound. So pounds and pounds of veggies. Your body would never stop expending energy to digest. Remember that thing about 1,584g of collards to match liver? That’s 3.49 pounds of collards. That many for the amount of iron in one 68g serving of liver. Pounds versus grams, who wins?

Also mentioned were sprouts, but the nutrition facts for that vary on the kind of sprout and what stage it’s in, and aloe vera juice. Now, aloe vera juice has nutrition facts that take a little more work to find. But as for it being “naturally loaded with Iron, Calcium, and Vitamin C” that’s, excuse my language, a crock of shit.

Trader Joe’s aloe vera juice has, based on a 2000 calorie diet, 0% the daily value of vitamin c, 0% the daily value of iron and 1% the daily value of calcium. However another website has the juice (serving size 100g) at 17% the daily value of vitamin c, but only 1% the daily value of calcium and 2% the daily value of iron. Liver has 25% of the daily value. There is no comparison here, liver is the clear winner. Because let me tell you, I’m taking 25% over 2% any day.

Ahem. I win.


One thought on “A Look at Iron

  1. Congratulations. It sounds like your backbone is made of iron and ramrod straight. It’s a pity that so many people are beguiled into believing that meat is of lesser value than vegetables.

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