Ways to Add More Iron to Your Diet Without Always Eating Red Meat!

Using cast iron to cook is a fantastic way to add more iron to your diet. Photo by Eaters Collective on Unplash.

I love a great steak. Over the years, my relationship with red meat has dramatically changed. For 4 years my parents used to poke fun at my being an adamant vegetarian who couldn’t stand to look at red meat, let alone smell it! In 2006 while training for a marathon I experienced both an iron deficiency and protein deficiency, requiring me to reintroduce meat including red meat in my diet. Three years later in 2009 I was diagnosed with systemic nickel allergy syndrome (SNAS) or a nickel food allergy. Why do I bring this up? Since my SNAS diagnosis, I’ve often questioned whether the lack of iron in my diet negatively contributed to my severe nickel allergy.

Scientifically both iron and vitamin c have been shown to reduce our body’s absorption of nickel. The question is how do we add more iron to our diet without always eating red meat? Eating too much red meat, or others foods high in purines, can cause gout flare ups, which happens to be genetic in my family.

Many people take supplements when they want to replace something from their diet. However, supplements can make systemic nickel allergies worse, as many contain undisclosed ingredients, including heaving metals. When it comes to iron deficiencies, I caution taking iron supplements unless you’re under the direct care of a medical professional. I’ve heard some horror stories regarding using iron supplements. Personally I don’t take any iron supplements.

Using cast iron cookware is an easy way to supplement your diet whenever you cook in the oven or stove. When heated, cast iron cookware adds a far amount of iron to your food. I love using Lodge’s cast iron products. They’ve told me they contain “a trace amount less than 0.001%” nickel.

In addition, some low nickel foods that contain higher amounts of iron include:

    • Eggs
    • Broccoli
    • Enriched egg noodles
    • Beef or chicken liver
    • Chicken and Turkey
    • Fish – halibut, tuna, salmon, perch, sardines
    • Raisins, dried apricots, dried peaches and dried prunes – I avoid purchasing dried fruits with sulfur dioxide.
    • Fortified cereals – nonheme iron, which our bodies less efficiently absorb (also found in beans, lentils and spinach) – I like to eat Kix cereal and Rice Chex cereal, both of which are fortified with iron with 45-50% of your daily recommended value.
    • Quinoa – as a seed, technically quinoa contains nickel, yet the quantity varies. I’ll eat quinoa about once a month. Sometimes it causes me to react and other times not, whereas I’ve heard from others they cannot tolerate it at all. If you do eat quinoa, it’s recommended you soak it for 1-2 hours and then rinse it after soaking. If you try quinoa, keeping a food journal that corresponds your symptoms is a great tool to identify how your body reacts.

To improve your body’s absorption of iron, it’s recommended you also eat foods rich in vitamin c, like papaya, kiwi, brussel sprouts, oranges, broccoli, or strawberries. 

Are there other foods you eat regularly to ensure you naturally get enough iron? Or perhaps foods you eat when you choose to eat something higher in nickel during the same meal? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

This article was originally in my monthly newsletter.

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  1. Penn state nickel diet, can’t eat salmon tuna lettuce and a lot of other things. I’m covered with dermatitis itching and burning daily. Just got diagnosed with allergy patch testing . Live in NYC. I am very depressed over this. I don’t know this is not a duplicate. I will have questions to where to begin.

  2. I took think I am going through the same thing. But I didn’t know for a long time. I found out by trying to wear a necklace with nickel. I am grateful to see your blog and to know I am not alone. I have decided to change my diet.

    1. Hi Monica,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. Starting the low nickel diet can be difficult. I have several helpful posts when you’re first starting out, below my story. It took a long time for your body to grow overly sensitive and it took me what felt like forever (4-6 weeks) to begin healing on the low nickel diet.
      Warm regards,

  3. I’m so confused about the amount of nickel that will upset me. I know they say nuts and seeds are bad so is sunflower oil bad? There are so many foods with sunflower oil. What do you think? I can’t find any information about sunflower oil.

    1. Hi Shelley,
      Nickel is found in seeds, however I don’t the quantity of nickel in sunflower oil. I try to avoid eating raw seeds or seeds in processed foods. However I do pour Rice Dream rice milk over my cereal, which contains both Safflower Oil and/or Organic Sunflower Oil, without issues and eat a couple other products like crackers and popcorn with sunflower oil without much issue.
      Some foods are more trial and error than others. In those circumstances it can be helpful to keep a food journal that corresponds with your symptoms to see if it’s okay for you.
      Warm regards,

  4. I am really glad to find your blog and look forward to reading about your journey. I was diagnosed with nickel allergy 8 years ago through an allergist and testing. I would say my hand dermatitis has not been horrific until the past 6 months and I have to buckle down now and heed the caution of nickel in my foods. It IS depressing b/c I am a foodie!! I am mourning the loss of many foods…but when your condition is really bad, it is worth it to skip the indulgence. I can see where it is going to take months to figure out what I can eat – and I try to eat healthy, low-carb and low-sugar, so this is getting even more difficult. Thank you for being another resource!

    1. HI Lanea,
      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found my blog! Eating a restricted diet can be depressing, especially when you’re a foodie! It took me quite some time to change my focus on what I could eat and identifying ways to adapt recipes to the low nickel diet. I still try to eat healthy, but do enjoy delicious carbs and sugars where I can! Most of my eczema is on my face and neck, but when it gets to my hands it’s a terrible form of painful.
      Warm regards,

  5. Hi Christy,
    I´m a brazilian nutritionist and your blog is helping me to understand more about nickel food allergy. I’m trying to help a patient that was diagnosed with this syndrome. I´m learn to plan a low nickel diet.
    Thanks for your help

    1. Hi Hellen,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. I’m glad to hear it’s helping you as a nutritionist when working with patients who are diagnosed with a systemic nickel allergy. Adjusting to the low nickel diet truly takes time and perspective. From time to time I have to eat foods higher in nickel to get nutrients I don’t get when I stick to a strictly low nickel diet.
      Warm regards,

  6. I am happy that I found your site. My husband was diagnosed with a nickel allergy several months ago. He has had a rash from head to toe that torments him from itching so bad. We have been to a dermatologist, an allergist for patch test, but all the creams didn’t seem to help that much. Out of desperation I went on line to find something on a low or no nickel diet that his dermatologist recommended since we had tried every thing else such as rubber covers for keys, latex gloves for unloading dishwasher, eating from plastic forks and spoons, and trading out spoons, spatulas, and all the other stuff for plastic. We really got serious after reading your blog and purchased ceramic cook ware and wood spoons to cook with. We have tried so many of your low nickel or nickel free dishes and they have all been wonderful. The shopping list was great also. We are praying this will help get rid of his rash. Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your story and foods with us, because I didn’t know where to start. Debbie

    1. Hi Debbie,
      Thank you so much for your comment and appreciation for my website. I hope switching out your cookware and eating the low nickel diet consistently will improve his eczema. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed many of my recipes and that they enable you to adapt your own.
      Warm regards,

  7. Hey Christy!! Just finished being told I have a nickel allergy with the patch test this past Friday and an egg yolk food allergy with the prick test the Monday prior. Grrrrrrrrr Have had a rash that has gone from almost gone to code red on my face (mostly forehead and now also cheeks) since Dec 19th. I know the exact date because I woke up that Sat morning having prepped my apartment for a dinner party to be held that evening and my face was on FIRE. Several benadryls and cold compresses later I had calmed it down but it was scary. I am going to look at this as a gift instead of a curse. A gift to get better 🙂 HOWEVER, I am confused about salmon. We eat only wild caught Alaskan Sockeye salmon in my house and I saw somewhere salmon (along with shrimp) was a no-no but you have it on your blog as fine… Is it fine for you in your food journal or is it lower in nickel in general? Thanks for your time!!! Alli (currently on day two of my elimination diet for yolks and nickel!)

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