When it comes to healthy eating, many of us turn to salads as one of the best lighter, diet-friendly options. But are you really making the most of your leafy green meal? Not likely, says registered dietician Lauren Schmitt. In fact, you may be missing out on a key nutrient in the effort to eat healthy.
In Schmitt’s experience, many of her clients avoid eating meat and instead load up on leaner foods, like salads. The danger in doing this, she says, is that it can lead to iron deficiency — especially in women. “Many women actually are deficient in iron, and it may have even progressed all the way to iron-deficiency anemia,” Schmitt tells the web series #OWNSHOW in the above video.
Aside from lab tests to check for iron-deficiency anemia, Schmitt reveals another big sign. “When we are deficient, our energy kind of is lagging,” she explains. “If that energy picks back up, it’s a sign that you are getting… plenty [of iron].”
While iron supplements may seem like the ideal way to make sure you’re getting enough iron, Schmitt encourages people to focus on their plates rather than some pills. “I always think it’s wise to try to get your iron from food sources,” she says.
Luckily, heavy, red meat isn’t the only iron-rich food source. “There’s heme iron, which is found in your animal products, as well as non-heme iron, which is found more in your plant products,” Schmitt says. “We do absorb the heme iron more, to a better extent, but… not all my clients eat a lot of meat, so we also need to depend on the plant sources.”
Two of those great plant sources? Dark, leafy greens and beans. Yes, you could eat a simple salad or a plate of beans and call it a day, but Schmitt has a trick to help you make the most of all that non-heme iron.
“If you really want to ensure absorption of that iron, I would actually recommend pairing those items with a source of vitamin C,” she says. “So, on your spinach salad, you could throw [on] some orange wedges. And you could throw the beans in a chili that had tomatoes, so you get that combo together.”