Iron is an essential nutrient for our bodies, and iron deficiency is the most common nutrional deficiency in the US. Why do we need it? To delivery oxygen throughout our bodies. About 2/3 of your body’s iron store is in your hemoglobin: the stuff that helps red blood cells carry the oxygen from the lungs. Without it, your body can’t produce healthy, oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which would fatigue you and lower your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Iron is also needed to maintain healthy cells, including skin, hair and nails, all according to Web MD.
Women are especially prone to iron deficiency because of our menstral cycles. But Vegans have to be particularly aware of our iron intake as well because the most useful iron for our bodies comes from meat — animal muscles and the blood proteins they contain. Iron from meat is called heme iron, and is the most easily absorbed. We vegans obviously don’t have access to heme iron. Instead, we get our iron from plant-based foods that provide non-heme iron, which is not as easily absorbed, so we have to have a few tools at our disposal. The first is education.
Where do we find the best sources of plant-based iron? It’s not hard.
And here’s another useful tip: Vitamin C aids in the absorbtion of iron. So have some citrus, or almost any other fruit, for that matter, soon after eating your meal. Easy button.
But also, did you know this? “Cooking in a cast iron skillet can add significant amounts of iron to your food and into your body.” — this from a team of research specialists and healthcare professionals at Columbia University.
Some foods can absorb the mineral from cast iron better than others. Wet and acidic foods, especially foods that simmer for a while, like tomato sauces, will absorb more iron. Foods that are dry and spend a short amount of time on the pan absorb less. If you use cast iron for much of your cooking, I’m sure you’ll even out the gap.
Many people shy away from cast iron because they have a bad (and untrue) reputation for being difficult to care for. It’s true that they are best when well seasoned, meaning they have a nice oil coating that prevents a lot of sticking. But you don’t need that oil from meat to get a good seasoning. Not at all. I don’t have any problem with my pan’s seasoning or caring for it. In fact, I use my pan nearly every day.
I started with a brand new pan, which is unpopular because most purists like to have their pans handed down to them or obtained through an estate sale find or something. But, as a vegan, I really wanted a pan that I knew hadn’t been used for meats, although I know that all of those proteins would have been cooked off. Still, I wanted a freshy that I could season myself and pass down to my kids. Perhaps I’m a bit of a purist. I got a Lodge pan for only $25 on Amazon. It was a steal, and I love it.
I washed my brand new pan and dried it right away (as water rusts iron). I heated it until is was smoking hot, then I rubbed on some vegetable oil and let it cool. I did that a couple of times to start it off, and from there, I maintain the seasoning on it by using it often, cleaning it properly and re-applying oil after every cleaning. That’s it.
To clean it, I use a chain mail scrubber, called The Ringer. It’s got rounded metal links that are gentle and they remove any remaing bits off the pan. I just run the pan under warm water and circle the scrubber around it a few times, and it’s clean.
I dry it immediately, and rub a little oil around it again. Done and done until tomorrow.
Now that you know how easy it is to, not only care for your cast iron, but also increase your iron intake, why not?
Let me know any tricks you have for your cast iron. 🙂