A couple of weeks ago, a close friend came to me asking for diet advice – In true college fashion, her busy study schedule meant she hadn’t been eating well. A few worrying symptoms plus doctor’s visits and blood tests indicated she had a couple of deficiencies, and she was ready to do something about it.
Of course, I am by no stretch of the imagination a nutritionist (and I rest assured she is still following up with her doctor), but thanks in large part to my final year project/dissertation, I’ve done my fair share of research and reading on nutrition for young children, so I’m moderately knowledgable on the subject. In any case, I didn’t want to lead her astray with any information so I dug up my books, checked out some from the library and of cracked open the interwebs to help me put together a comprehensive meal-plan and shopping list.
One of the important nutrients I highlighted throughout the plan was Iron. Iron intake is often something of concern for the newly vegan or veg-curious, but the truth iron deficiency is no more common in vegans than in the general population. A well-balanced vegan diet is typically high in iron and should include sources of iron like dried fruits, whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, seeds and pulses (hello, chickpeas!). Blackstrap molasses and some edible seaweeds are also very rich plant-based sources, but aren’t consumed in large amounts/as regularly.
The only difference is that iron absorption from plant-based sources is slightly lower than that from animal foods. The good news is that iron absorption is greatly boosted by the presence of vitamin C in a meal. Studies have shown that 70-105mg of vitamin C can triple the amount of iron absorption in a plant-based meal! This can be as simple as making a citrus-based dressing to go with your leafy greens, or throwing some strawberries in your green smoothie.
Or in your salad.
- 2 heaping cups of baby spinach
- 1 cup romaine or other mixed greens of choice
- A few sprigs of chopped mint
- 1/2 cup strawberries, thinly sliced
- 1/2 an avocado, sliced
- 1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced
- Small handful of chopped walnuts
For the dressing:
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- juice of half a lemon
- 3-4 smashed strawberries
- 1 1/2 tsp agave (or other liquid sweetener, maple syrup would work also)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- salt and black pepper to taste
Layer the salad ingredients and toss to mix. Top with avocado and chopped walnuts and dress right before serving.
For the dressing, mash the strawberries roughly using a fork (alternatively blend or chop finely), then combine with the rest of the ingredients.
You may be thinking, “strawberries in a salad? Really?” but don’t knock it until you try it. My mom was as skeptical as ever when I concocted this for her last summer, but she absolutely loved it, thanks in large part to the sweet strawberry balsamic dressing.
It makes a wonderfully nutrient dense side salad, and an equally filling meal when combined with a good protein source like chickpeas or quinoa.
So to re-cap on the nutrition front, we have iron from the spinach + vitamin C from strawberries and the citric acid (lemon) in the dressing, healthy fats from the avocado, and omega-3 fatty acids from the walnuts, as well as vitamins A, K and folate from the rest of the romaine and leafy greens!
And if the thought of a nutritionally balanced salad doesn’t make you giddy with excitement, the taste certainly will.
Happy weekend, friends! Mine will unfortunately be burdened with studying for Monday’s final exam – wish me luck.