4. A healthy diet does not guarantee good iron levels.
You eat lots of whole grains, drink tea, and snack on nuts—all good ideas. However, your healthy eating habits could accidentally be derailing your iron intake. “Natural chemicals called phytates are found in the outer coating of nuts, legumes, seeds and grains, as well as soy,” says Tsui. “Those phytates interfere with the absorption of iron.” Once again, eating vitamin C-rich foods helps to counteract the effects. Adding sprouted seeds or roasted nuts (for example, sprinkling sprouted sunflower seeds on a salad) also reduces the phytate content. So sprouted-grain bread rather than regular bread, as well as fermented products, such as tempeh (rather than tofu) or sourdough bread, are all good choices if you’re trying to increase your iron intake, says Tsui. Cook up some onion and garlic with your legumes, too—a 2010 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that adding them enhanced absorption of the iron in legumes by up to 73 percent.
Plant substances called polyphenols, found in black tea, herbal teas, coffee, and wine, also interfere with iron absorption; consider drinking it a half hour or so after eating, says Paton. Some studies have also found that a calcium supplement taken with a meal can block iron, so take it at bedtime if possible.