What if you could improve the health of you and your baby with the help of one lucky fish?
Curious? Read on.
In Cambodia, due to a traditional diet poor in iron-rich foods, iron deficiency affects over half of the population. Because iron supplements are cost prohibitive, an alternative solution was needed to solve this paramount dilemma.
The answer lay in a Cambodian cultural symbol of hope and luck--the fish, and hence, The Lucky Iron Fish B-Corp was born. After nine months of cooking with these symbolic fish (made of ferrous iron, which is very well absorbed), researchers saw a 50% drop in iron-deficiency rates. It was found that cooking with the iron fish for just 10 minutes could provide approximately 75% of one's daily iron needs.
How does it work? The iron fish can be boiled in 1 liter of water or broth with 2-3 drops of citrus juice or apple cider vinegar for 10 minutes (don't skip the citrus--this step is important to maximize absorption). After the iron fish is removed, one can add the rest of the meal's ingredients as usual or save the water to use for drinking. You can read more about the mission to "put a fish in every pot" on their website (1).
I believe this is an incredibly important discovery that has the ability to improve the health of pregnant women and babies all over the world. Iron-deficiency anemia occurs in over half of ALL pregnancies and is a serious health threat. Iron deficiency is associated with death, lower birth weights and negative effects on cognitive and behavioral development in infants. In addition, after delivery, mothers who are anemic may experience extreme tiredness, heart palpitations and increased risk of infection (2).
In pregnancy, a woman's daily iron needs increase to 27 mg per day in order to keep up with the boost in maternal red blood cell production (2). The best, most readily absorbed, form of iron is heme iron which is found in meat and seafood. Non-heme iron, found in vegetarian sources, is still absorbed but requires an extra boost from vitamin C (for example, be sure to eat your beans with bell peppers--a good source of vitamin C!).
Pregnancy is absolutely a time of hope and wishes and, to me, the lucky iron fish is a wonderful reminder of that. One simple change can affect the health of so many, just as many simple changes to your diet, can improve health outcomes for you and your baby. If you are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, there are several tidbits about iron that are very important to know:
- Know your numbers: Normal hemoglobin levels for women are 12-15 gm/dL. Make sure you get your level checked by your healthcare provider.
- Know your iron-rich food sources and eat them daily: (this list is not exhaustive but includes many great sources of iron): liver, beans, lentils, tofu, fully-cooked oysters (raw oysters are NOT recommended during pregnancy), beef, dark-meat chicken, salmon, tuna, dried fruit, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin seeds, cashews and fortified breakfast cereals. You may also choose to cook with a cast-iron skillet or the aforementioned lucky iron fish!
- Know that vitamin C is key: If you are eating non-heme (vegetarian) sources of iron, make sure you are also eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin C (this includes citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe and bell peppers among others).
- Know how to find a quality iron supplement: Discuss the need for an iron supplement with your healthcare provider before starting on a new regimen. Look for an iron supplement that has been third-party tested, often indicated with a United States Pharmacopia (USP) seal. You may also choose to check out consumerlab.com to evaluate any potential supplements. When reading supplement labels, keep in mind that ferrous iron is absorbed best and try to avoid supplements with less than desired ingredients in them (artificial colors or artificial sweeteners to name a few) (3).
- Know what affects iron absorption: Iron absorption may be impaired by any of the following:
♦ Gastrointestinal issues (celiac disease, crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and others)
♦Tannins (avoid eating iron-rich foods or taking iron supplements with tea, coffee, grapes or chocolate).
♦Phytates (avoid eating iron-rich foods or taking iron supplements with bran cereals or wheat bran)
♦ Competing minerals (calcium likely competes with iron so it is better to take an iron supplement with a splash of organic orange juice instead of milk. Keep this in mind when timing your prenatal vitamins that contain calcium as well).
♦ Antacids (you require stomach acid to absorb iron properly. It is not recommended to take iron supplements with your antacids, so space them at least 2 hours apart) (2).
As a vegetarian mama who struggled to keep her hemoglobin level up during pregnancy, I understand just how difficult it can be--especially if you have aversions to certain foods. Just know, that with smart food planning, and quality iron supplementation if needed, you should be able to "fish" out iron deficiency and its potential harmful effects during your pregnancy!
(2) Escott-Stump, Sylvia MA, RDN, LDN. Nutrition & Diagnosis-Related Care. Eighth Edition. Wolters Kluwer (2015)
Photo Credit: "Best for the World" image posted with permission from Lucky Iron Fish B-Corp.
Photo Credit: Jack Zhang via Flickr.com