Dear Dr. Blonz: I need to know more about iron and anemia, and would also like some nutritional information on dates and raisins. Are they good sources of iron for vegetarians? — A.V., Charlotte, North Carolina
Dear A.V.: The body requires iron to make hemoglobin and myoglobin, both critical oxygen compounds. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood, while myoglobin handles oxygen in the muscles. If the body is iron-deficient, the hemoglobin and myoglobin levels decrease accordingly, and with them goes the body’s ability to produce energy.
Anemia (“an-” meaning “without,” “-emia” meaning “blood”) is the most widespread deficiency disease in the world. It is marked by fatigue, headaches, dizziness and a general “run-down” feeling; these symptoms can be misread as normal side effects of a stressful lifestyle. Many health issues can lead to anemia, but an iron deficiency causes the most common type. This can be due to a lack of iron in the diet, an inefficient absorption of dietary iron or a loss of blood.
Iron in food comes in two forms. Heme iron is a complex where iron is attached to a heme protein that facilitates absorption. You find heme iron in animal foods such as red meats, poultry, fish and eggs. Sources of non-heme iron (with no heme protein) include cereals and bread made with iron-enriched grains, as well as nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruits and some dark green leafy vegetables.
Dates and raisins contain iron: 1 and 1.5 milligrams, respectively, per half-cup serving. For alternatives, consider figs, which contain just over 2 milligrams of iron per half-cup. Other vegetarian sources of iron include the above-mentioned dark green leafy vegetables, lentils and other legumes, blackstrap molasses, iron-fortified cereal and enriched bread.
You should have no problem satisfying your iron intake requirements using foods alone, though certain health issues and medications can affect the iron absorption process. But in any discussion of iron, it is important to bring up a caution not to overdo it. Excess iron can be dangerous, as the body is not efficient at getting rid of its surplus. Most bodies do a reasonable job by producing fewer iron-binding proteins when its stores are full. There is, however, a sneaky and severe genetic iron-storage disease called hemochromatosis where iron builds up in the body. See the discussion at the National Institutes of Health: b.link/cxwg7b.
There are excellent lab tests to see where your body stands with iron; be sure to ask your health professional if this is an issue during your next checkup.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is there any difference between fat and oil? — F.S., San Francisco
DEAR F.S.: The terms “fat” and “oil” tend to be used interchangeably, but technically, fats are solid at room temperature (68-72 degrees F), while oils are liquid. It is not unusual for “fat” to be used as a generic term referring to either or both.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com.