Like a boat bringing supplies ashore, iron is an important mineral whose primary purpose is to carry oxygen throughout the body in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. But getting iron in your body isn’t always easy — especially when the iron comes from plant foods, says Ella Davar, RD, a holistic nutritionist based in New York.
Iron comes in two forms: heme and nonheme, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Haem is only found in animal flesh such as meat, poultry and seafood, while non-heme is found in plant foods such as whole grains, nuts, legumes and leafy greens,” explains Davar. “Haem iron is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron, but vitamin C may improve the absorption of non-heme iron.”
Because of this, vegetarians and vegans are more likely to be iron deficient, but iron deficiency is also common in young children, pregnant women and people of childbearing age, according to an August 2015 report in the lancet.
During pregnancy, people need almost double the amount of iron to produce more blood to oxygenate the baby. If you don’t have iron in your nutrient stores, or don’t get enough iron during your pregnancy, you could develop a deficiency, according to the Mayo Clinic.
People with certain chronic diseases, including anemia, kidney disease, chronic heart failure, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease, are also more likely to be iron deficient.
Can Cooking Ironfish Help You Get More Iron?
About 1.2 billion people worldwide suffer from iron deficiency anemia, according to a January 2019 report in blood. It makes sense that people would be looking for ways to increase their iron levels, and tools like Lucky Iron Fish claim to improve iron levels by fortifying foods with the mineral.
Lucky Iron Fish is made from FDA certified food grade electrolytic iron powder. It releases iron particles into boiling water, making it easier for your body to absorb.
- Boil about 4 cups of liquid (like water or broth) in a large saucepan.
- Then add two to three drops of citrus or an acidic ingredient along with the Lucky Iron Fish. (The acid helps the mixture reach a certain pH level to release the iron.)
- Allow this mixture to cook for about 10 minutes before removing the Lucky Iron Fish.
The Lucky Iron Fish liquid in the pot is what you will use for cooking. You can use the Lucky Iron Fish water to prepare a variety of dishes such as soups, stews, smoothies, rice, pasta and hummus.
Lucky Iron Fish claims it releases microscopic iron particles into the liquid — around 6 to 8 milligrams. To put this in perspective, the NIH recommends that adults consume 8 to 18 milligrams of iron daily.
Do ironfish really work?
As for the science behind these nifty tools? “Some peer-reviewed studies suggest that with appropriate compliance, cast-iron pots and iron bars could be used to reduce iron-deficiency anemia, particularly in children,” says Davar.
“However, other studies have shown that the iron content and availability of food prepared with iron cookware depends on the cooking conditions, including the type of food being prepared.”
The amount of iron released from iron-based cooking pots and tools increases with acidic pH and/or the presence of acid, which is why Lucky Iron Fish says it recommends adding some citrus or vinegar to the boiling water before each use davar
“Due to the fact that vitamin C improves the absorption of non-heme iron, it makes sense that these claims would be made,” says Davar.
A study from August 2017 innutrient tested the effectiveness of Lucky Iron Fish and found that while it released a significant amount of iron at a pH of 2, it was only slightly soluble at a pH of 7. The vitamin C added to the liquid helped maintain the solubility of the iron and its absorption. However, the study also found that foods with tannic acid (e.g. coffee and tea) can inhibit the absorption of iron by a factor of 7.5.
While tools like Lucky Iron Fish can help increase iron levels, studies show that it doesn’t necessarily help solve problems related to anemia.
A June 2017 controlled study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested the effectiveness of Lucky Iron Fish in 327 people with moderate anemia and compared it to the effectiveness of iron pills. There was no significant difference in hemoglobin levels between those using the Lucky Iron Fish and those taking iron supplements after 6 or 12 months of use.
Note that anemia is a condition caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency anemia is a type of anemia, but anemia can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies and inflammation associated with certain diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What are the disadvantages of using Iron Fish?
Lucky Iron Fish may seem like a panacea for treating iron deficiency, but there are some downsides to using it.
In addition to not solving — and potentially masking — health issues related to deficiencies, it can also alter the flavor of your food, says Davar.
“Using Lucky Iron Fish can enhance the flavor so much that it imparts a metallic taste to some individuals with a sensitive palate,” says Davar.
Iron toxicity is also a possibility when using bars like Lucky Iron Fish. “If you have iron overload (hemochromatosis), you should avoid cast iron cookware, especially with acidic foods,” says Davar. Postmenopausal people should also use it with caution, since monthly menstruation often masks hemochromatosis until a person enters menopause, Davar says.
In these cases, stainless steel cookware is a safe cooking option.
So should you be using iron ingots?
The bottom line is that while it’s generally safe to use tools like Lucky Iron Fish to increase your iron levels, it probably won’t solve any pre-existing problems you have that could be causing your deficiency.
For this reason, it’s best to talk to your doctor to help you identify the causes and work with a registered dietitian to create an eating plan that addresses your specific dietary needs.