If you’re a woman and you’ve ever gone through a spell of exhaustion, chances are you’ve gotten the “Maybe you’re anemic!” suggestion from a concerned friend or family member. Although anemia is technically a lack of hemoglobin in the blood, the term tends to be used colloquially for an iron deficiency. (1)
So—why can an iron deficiency make you tired, both mentally and physically? In over-simplified terms, it’s because iron is an “essential component of hemoglobin,” a protein that carries oxygen from your lungs to your tissues… tissues like your brain and muscles. (2) In truth, it’s actually rare for people in developed countries to have a serious iron deficiency; it’s more common in the developing world. Most of us get enough iron from our diets. However, pregnant women are often encouraged to take iron supplements because their bodies require more iron—it takes a lot of red blood cells (which carry hemoglobin) to feed the fetus and placenta. (2)
One complication for us vegans stems from the difference between heme and non-heme iron sources. Heme iron comes from animal sources and is absorbed more efficiently than non-heme iron, which comes from plants. Therefore, you technically should consume more iron if you’re vegan. However, you can increase non-heme iron absorption by eating foods containing vitamin C at the same meal—and many iron-rich foods are also naturally high in vitamin C. (1) And the good news is that as far as we can tell, vegetarians don’t have greater incidences of iron-deficiency anemia than meat-eaters. (3)
The CDC’s recommended daily allowances (RDA) for iron vary by age and sex, and it’s good to have a sense of how much you need. As a 27-year-old ciswoman, I need 18 mg according to the CDC. However, the Vegetarian Resource Group notes that vegetarians could require up to 1.8 times more iron than omnivores. (3) That’s about 32 mg for me.
Luckily for us, non-heme iron is not hard to find. One cup of lentils has 6.6 mg. An ounce of pumpkin seeds has 4.2 mg. One cup of cooked fresh spinach has 6.4. And blackstrap molasses—that unassuming viscous liquid!—has a whopping 7 mg in just two tablespoons.
Blackstrap molasses, as it turns out, makes an excellent hot beverage when whisked with hot almond milk. (Thanks for the inspiration, Pinterest!) Beats taking it by straight by the spoonful, as I’ve been known to do.
Hot Molasses Mug
- 1 cup almond milk (or other nondairy milk of choice)
- 2 T blackstrap molasses
- Dash pure vanilla extract
In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, warm the almond milk until it begins steaming. Transfer to a mug and add the molasses and vanilla extract. Whisk vigorously until combined. Enjoy.
With one warming beverage that could barely be any easier to prepare, I’ve got nearly a third of my iron requirement fulfilled. And—bonus!—I’ve found my new favorite fall beverage.
How do you take your molasses?
I’m neither a doctor nor a dietitian; please don’t treat my posts as medical advice! Consult a medical practitioner for specific medical or nutritional recommendations.