A lot of people seem to think that they should avoid iron-rich foods, even if they have no reason to believe they have a genetic predisposition to iron overload. In this video, I show you why this is ridiculous. I *do* have a genetic predisposition to iron overload, and I consume over 5 times the daily value for iron, including 10 ounces of red meat, and my iron status is kept on the low end of the physiologically healthy range by donating blood about once a year. Watch the video to see the numbers!
In the video, I reference this previous episode on looking up your genetics for iron overload: https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/2017/03/22/know-youre-risk-iron-overload/
This episode is brought to you by Testing Nutritional Status: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet. Everything you could ever need to know to optimize your nutrition, all in one place. Easier to find and use than ever before. Get your copy at https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/cheatsheet Use the code LITE5 to get $5 off.
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Read the Transcript
Are you avoiding iron-rich foods because you’re afraid that they’re bad for you?
Here’s why you probably don’t need to care.
Hi. I’m Dr. Chris Masterjohn of chrismasterjohnphd.com. And this is Chris Masterjohn Lite, where the name of the game is “Details? Shmeetails. Just tell me what works!”
And today we’re going to talk about why, f you don’t have a genetic predisposition to accumulate too much iron, you probably do not need to be paying any attention to avoiding iron-rich foods. And this comes from someone who has a genetic predisposition to absorb too much iron, and as you’ll see shortly, eats way more than the RDA for iron.
Okay, so first of all, our bodies have very precise homeostatic machinery to maintain normal levels of iron. When we eat too much iron, our body stops absorbing the iron.
Our body shuttles that iron into a compound called ferritin that locks it away and prevents it from having access to any places where it might cause trouble. Now, some of us, and it’s not insignificant by any means, this includes me, some of us have genetic predispositions to absorb too much iron. I’ll link in the description of this video to a previous one that I made on how to know if those genetics apply to you. There are some rare genetics that aren’t covered in any of the major testing that we might not know about, and so it’s always important to test your iron status at least once in order to know whether you might, might have a problem that you couldn’t discover with genetic testing.
But let’s say that you don’t have that problem. Should you worry about too much iron in certain specific foods like red meat, or like legumes, or like green vegetables, or like this whole-food supplement that you were taking as a probiotic? The answer is no because that iron is simply going to be—is simply not going to be absorbed, and to the extent some of it is, it’ll be locked away in the right place. Now, let’s look at my results, being homozygous for the H63D allele for the hemochromatosis genes. That is the less severe of the two major alleles that are associated, the major genetic variations that are associated with hemochromatosis.
I am quite vulnerable to developing iron overload if I do not give blood over the course of years. But I want to show you now my iron intake as judged by Cronometer and my iron lab results in the context of donating blood on an average of once a year over the last decade. So first of all, let’s take a look at Cronometer. If you go into this representative example of what I was eating in the months leading up to my lab results, we can go to targets, and we can scroll down until we find the minerals, and then we can look at the iron.
The iron is shown there in red, and it says that I’m consuming 54 milligrams against a daily value of 8 milligrams, so I’m getting almost 7 times what I need, according to Cronometer. Now let’s go back and take a look at where those things come from. So, a lot of it was coming from plant foods, and so there’s iron in the rice, there’s iron in the lentils, there’s iron in the vegetables, but 10 ounces of sirloin steak per day is also where that iron is coming from. We can go and look at that steak, we can go to view more details, and we can see how much iron it’s providing. If we scroll down to minerals, we see that the steak itself only provides half the daily value.
A lot of people are avoiding steak on the basis of its high iron content, but I’m eating 10 ounces of steak a day in this diet, and it’s providing less than a tenth of my total iron and less than half of the daily value. So a lot more is coming from the plant foods, and you can say, “Well, okay Dr. Masterjohn, but we’re really concerned about the heme in the meat because that’s more easily absorbed.” Well, okay, but exactly how many ounces of red meat are you afraid of? Because I was eating 10 ounces a day, and there’s a lot of people out there who would say that that’s excessive, and this is in the context of me, who’s genetically predisposed to over accumulate iron.
Now let’s take a look at my lab work. So here are my iron results after several months of consuming the diet that I just showed you. And what it shows is that my iron is well within the normal range. My iron saturation is not only in the normal range, but it’s at the bottom of what I advocate as the physiologically healthful range of 30-40%. It’s at 31%. My serum ferritin is at what I would consider a healthy level, generally between 60 and 150. My transferrin can be used to calculate my transferrin saturation as described in the previous episode, and that puts me at 30%, which is very close to my iron saturation of 31% and again is at the bottom of what I consider the physiologically healthful range.
So for me, I believe my iron is in kept in check because, number one, the diversity of foods in my diet provides plenty of things, plenty of natural iron absorption inhibitors in the foods alongside the iron that’s in my diet because of the plant foods. But also, my iron doesn’t get out of control unless I go years without donating blood, and because I’m on the background of donating blood about once a year, I can eat all the red meat that I want and all the iron-rich plant foods that I want. My iron is not getting out of control.
If you do not have the genetic predisposition to iron overload, if you do not have blood work showing iron overload, if you do not have a medical reason from your doctor specific to you that overrides anything I’m saying in this video, then you probably don’t need to be avoiding iron, whether it comes from red meat, or from vegetables, or from legumes, or from a natural whole-food supplement that you found that you were worried about because of the iron contained therein.