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How to Modify Recipes to Improve Iron Nutritional Quality

Iron is an essential nutrient that helps the body produce red blood cells. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which can cause fatigue and other symptoms. This article will show you how to modify a recipe to improve its iron nutritional quality.

Quiche with added spinach

What is iron, and Why is it Important?

Iron is an essential mineral needed for the body to produce red blood cells and carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which can cause symptoms like weakness and fatigue.

Iron is a mineral that is found in many foods. It is also found in supplements, such as multivitamins or iron pills. Iron deficiency can be caused by not getting enough iron from food or because the body cannot absorb enough iron from food due in health conditions like Celiac disease or Crohn's disease for example. Menarche (menstruation) can also cause iron loss through blood loss. If you suspect that you might be iron deficient, pop over and see your doctor to get relevant tests.

How Much Iron is in a Serving of Food?

The best sources of dietary iron are animal products, such as meat and fish, and leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli and swiss chard. Eating these foods will help you meet your daily needs for dietary iron.

What are the Best Ways to Increase Iron Content in Recipes?

One of the best ways to incorporate more iron into your diet is eating a greater variety of foods containing this mineral. We can do this by fortifying existing recipes with iron-rich ingredients that can help improve the Iron nutritional quality.

Let's look at a recipe now and modify it to improve its iron quality.

Slow-Cooked Apricot Lamb by

Let's start by looking at the recipe of the Day at, which is a Slow Cooked Apricot Lamb (Yum). The good news is that this recipe is already rich in iron due to the inclusion of lamb. 

Lamb is a heme iron source (Iron that comes from the animal product), so it's easily absorbed by the body. Other Iron-rich ingredients in this meal are chickpeas. This recipe also contains ingredients rich in vitamin C (vegetables, pomegranate seeds), which helps add to Iron absorption.

Hypothetically, suppose we wanted to improve Iron quality even more here. In that case, we could add a second legume like a cup of lentils, some spinach and a sprinkling of the herb thyme, and serve it with a side of bread fortified with iron, for example. This particular recipe would slightly improve because this is already a great iron-rich meal.

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup by Recipe Tin Eats

Next, let's take a look at this minestrone recipe to see what we can do to boost Iron nutritional quality. 

The Iron quality in this dish is less because it doesn't contain a substantial amount of meat (except some bacon). This recipe already has some kidney beans and proposes an option to include spinach, so I'd definitely add these ingredients for their sources of iron. There is some bacon in the dish, but if you wanted to add more heme iron here, you could consider swapping this out with some pieces of beef, adding a little extra than the recipe calls for. 

Another swap you could consider is swapping the regular pasta for some legume-based pasta or quinoa pasta with a higher amount of iron. This pasta will likely take less time to cook, so add it to your recipe later. 

Serve the soup alongside some Iron-fortified bread. 

Cinnamon and Banana Porridge by

Okay, final recipe, let's look at this Cinnamon Porridge back with Taste. 

This dish contains only a tiny amount of non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in plant sources such as beans, lentils, spinach, and other vegetables. This Iron source is not as easily absorbed by the body, so it needs a little help. 

To boost the iron available in this breakfast, we could consider sprinkling in something like a tablespoon of wheat germ or chia seeds which would blend in nicely and give a modest boost to the iron quality. 

This recipe has some bananas added to the top, but we could also consider adding some strawberries for their richness in Vitamin C. This will help absorb the iron in this breakfast. 

Fortification Considerations

Hopefully, this has given some ideas of little things you can do to improve the iron quality in different dishes. A couple of extra considerations before we sign-off. 

If your dish is vegetarian, complement your dish with some foods that are rich in vitamin C. A glass of orange juice, or added vegetables etc. This will help with the absorption of that non-heme iron (plant based iron). 

How much you decide to modify a dish will vary depending on how true you want to stay to the original, keeping sensory qualities like texture, taste and appearance like the original. The minestrone soup is a good example here. Adding ingredients like beef or swapping out the pasta can change the true sense of what a Minestrone Soup is so this will often come down to some trial and personal preferences. 

How Modifying Recipes Can Help You Get More Iron Into Your Diet

Iron is a mineral that people need to get from their diet. Iron is essential because it helps your blood cells work and carry oxygen through your body. But, some people have low iron levels in their bodies, and they don't know it. This can lead to health problems such as anemia.

There are many ways to increase the amount of iron you get from your food, but one way is by modifying recipes. By adding ingredients high in iron or substituting for ingredients that contain little or no iron, you can ensure you're getting enough of this vital mineral every day.


Do you have a favourite recipe you'd like to modify to improve the Iron quality? Add it in the comments below and I'll give some suggestions :)

Image Credit: Brodie Vissers, Henry Geddes


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