I’ve always been a little smug about avoiding anemia and iron deficiency. In my mid-twenties my primary care doctor would always explain that it was not uncommon in women my age, but that I was doing just fine. Chalking this up to my weekly hamburger and generally robust constitution, I patted myself on the back and felt a little sorry for wan girls who subsisted on undressed salad greens, thought of Tasti D-Lite as a treat, and had to pop vitamins to maintain enough strength to spend an hour on the elliptical trainer or to hoist their enormous designer bags.
Alas, My Iron Levels Are Sub-Optimal
Fast forward half a decade or so to today, when things are a little different. Now that I know more about meat production, hamburgers are a rare treat. My twenty-seventh birthday seemed to be accompanied by a flurry of articles about my decreasing bone density and fertility, and so I braved the baffling vitamin aisles of the health food store to pick up calcium supplements. Today, pregnant, I’m slightly embarrassed by the little club of pill bottles in my kitchen: prenatal multivitamin, calcium, folic acid, and DHA. Yesterday after I had some bloodwork done my doctor told me I need to add 50 milligrams of iron a day to the lineup, destroying my silly old self-satisfaction with my vibrant red blood cells.
How To Take Iron Supplements
I see now that I had underlined and starred a passage in What to Expect When You’re Expecting about adding 30-50 mg extra ferrous iron a day starting in the 20th week of pregnancy (in addition to your regular vitamins), but I promptly forgot it, no doubt due to excessive daydreaming about what kind of stroller to get or how we are going to squeeze a crib into our apartment. Aware that calcium interferes with iron absorption, I was careful never to take my iron-containing multivitamin with morning yogurt or other dairy-rich meals; What to Expect recommends that I take my new iron-only supplement with fruit juice between meals. (Presumably the fruit juice is recommended because vitamin C promotes iron absorption, but I’m not sure I want to add the extra calories at this point.)
Incorporate More Iron-Rich Foods
Since the pills still seem to me something like an expensive scam, I’m going to try to get more iron from food, too. All kinds of meat seem to be the best source of iron, so I should incorporate a little more into my diet. As far as vegetarian sources of iron besides almonds, raw broccoli, kidney beans, and spinach go, lentils and dried apricots are both good—and I happen to have an old favorite dinner that relies on them: brown rice with lentils and apricots. It isn’t the most tempting dinner you’ll ever make, but it is healthy, hearty, relatively fast to prepare (under an hour start to finish, most of that inactive), based on pantry staples, and cheap—maybe even cheap enough to start saving up for a nice, big, anemia-fighting steak at Peter Luger.
- 1/2 cup lentils, washed and picked over; plain old lentils are good here (as opposed to beluga or Puy)
- 1 cup any brown rice, rinsed
- About 3 1/4 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable stock or water, plus more as needed (I use water)
- 1 bay leaf
- About 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup diced dried apricots or other dried fruit (raisins are fine)
- Minced fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Put the lentils and rice together in a medium saucepan. Add enough liquid to cover by at least 2 inches, about 3 cups. Turn the heat to high and add the bay leaf, about 1 teaspoon salt, some pepper, and the vinegar. When the mixture boils, turn the heat medium, skim off any foam that has formed on top, and cook, stirring infrequently. If you need to add more liquid to keep the mixture wet, do so, a little at a time.
When the lentils and rice are both tender—it will take between 30 and 45 minutes—drain them; do not rinse (it may not even be necessary to drain). Remove the bay leaf.
While the rice and lentils cook, put 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the apricots and remaining 1/4 cup liquid. When the liquid simmers, turn off the heat.
When the lentil/rice mixture is ready, put the remaining butter or olive oil in the lentil/rice cooking pot and turn the heat to medium. When the butter has melted or the oil is hot, add the lentils and rice back to the pot and cook, stirring, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the onions and apricots and cook, stirring, for another minute. Garnish and serve.