Iron deficiency affects nearly half the world's population, and it's especially prevalent in developing countries where supplements to correct the mineral imbalance—which causes extreme fatigue—are in short supply. But scientists and activists wonder whether there's a simple, inexpensive solution to the problem: cast-iron cookware.
The Wall Street Journal examined the effects of preparing meals in cast-iron pots and pans, evaluating whether the iron released by the cookware could have a noticeable effect on a person's mineral levels. The report found that while "it is true that cooking with cast iron can potentially add iron to your food," how well that iron is absorbed into the body varies widely depending on the cooking time and acidity of the ingredients. Because iron is soluble in acid, preparing acidic foods, such as tomatoes, will transfer the iron to the food in higher amounts. The same goes for cooking in water, rather than frying in oil.
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Sara Haas, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that while cast-iron shouldn't be relied upon by those with an iron deficiency, the metal could be a "good way" to add the mineral to someone's diet. And as it turns out, pans aren't the only cooking tool through which people are getting their iron fix.
A recent study on rural Cambodian women found that when a fish-shaped iron ingot was simmered in their soup, anemia levels in the women fell. The results, which were published in the journal of Tropical Medicine and Surgery, showed that after incorporating the metal fish in their cooking for a year, levels of hemoglobin concentration in the participants' blood rose, and the prevalence of anemia fell by 46 percent. Now, the fish—which is produced by Canada's Lucky Iron Fish Inc.—is available online for $25. With every fish purchased, the company donates another to a community in need.