Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Where do you get your...iron?

Iron is an essential component of haemoglobin (Hb). Hb is the substance that makes our blood red, and transports oxygen to all parts of the body. Two-thirds of the body's iron is contained in the Hb, with the remainder stored in the liver, spleen and bone-marrow.

Insufficient Hb, resulting in insufficient oxygen supply to the body, and generally known as anaemia, can cause all sorts of problems, but the most well-known manifestations of deficiency are tiredness, breathlessness and headaches.


The RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) for adults is 8.7 mg daily average. For menstruating women it's set at 14.8 mg. But...bear in mind that figure is set with the average woman (on a standard cooked diet) in mind. It will not apply to the majority of all-raw women, who generally bleed far less than the average (see my article on menstruation here).

Can iron be stored?

Yes, which means that we don't need to concern ourselves with iron intake within any one day - it's the intake over a period of days, or weeks, or months, that counts.

Can we have too much iron?

Yes. High levels of iron in the blood have been linked with cancer and heart attacks. And high doses of iron supplements have been linked with constipation, vomiting and diarrhoea, and can be fatal.


The following raw vegan food groups tend to be particularly high in iron: seeds, nuts, dried fruit, dark green leaves.

Here are just a few examples of foods high in iron, and I've been realistic on serving sizes. For example, you will often hear people say that parsley is high in iron. Well, yes it is, per 100g. But parsley is so light in weight that you'd have to eat five packs for it to make it onto the list below.

Pumpkin seeds, 1/2 cup, 10 mg iron
Dried apricots/peaches, 100g, 6 mg
Cashews, 1/2 cup, 5 mg
Pine kernels, 1/2 cup, 4 mg
Sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup, 4 mg
Almonds, 1/2 cup, 3 mg
Spinach, 100g, 3 mg
Sea veg (generally), 100g, 2-3 mg
Kale, 100g, 2 mg
Walnuts, 1/2 cup, 2 mg
Sprouted lentils, 1/2 cup, 2 mg
(Source: USDA Nutrient Database)

Raw fooders who eat at least some of the foods on this list regularly should have no problem in making the RNI of 8 grams, as most of the other foods eaten in a week will also be contributing to iron requirements.

High fruit diets

Fresh fruits highest in iron are berries (eg raspberries, blackberries) at 1 mg per 100g. Fruits such as bananas, mangoes, papayas and tomatoes contain on average 0.3 mg per fruit. But I know people who eat a lot of bananas! 10 bananas would give 3 mg of iron, and therefore be a significant source of iron. I have a passion for persimmons (0.6 mg) and could easily eat several. Five persimmons would yield 3 mg of iron.

So those who follow high-fruit diets, who have fruit in quantity, as 'meals', should have no problems obtaining all the iron they need, even if they eat very little of the foods in the 'high iron' list.

And, as Vitamin C helps iron absorption, high-fruit diets win all round (and, incidentally, the fact that raw fooders in general eat more Vitamin C counterbalances the claim from some that iron from animal foods is more easily absorbed than that from vegan sources).

(note - dried fruits are often said to be good for iron. Any dried food will 'appear' to score highly on nutrients, but that's simply because the water's been removed and therefore there will be more fruits per 100g, therefore more nutrients per 100g. As 'more nutrients' here is somewhat of an illusion, and dried fruit can bring its own problems, eg teeth problems, best to stick to fresh wherever possible.)

Iron antinutrients

I did start off with quite a long list of substances that some believe interfere with iron absorption. But there are so many contradictory studies that, in most cases, it wouldn't be fair to point the finger.

So, I'll stick with the 'perennials', about which there is no disagreement. They are:

Tea (including herbal tea - it's the tannins...)

(especially when drunk with meals)

I believe not, for the following reasons:

Foods typically eaten by a raw fooder over a week will contain several on the 'high-iron' list, with many other contributing foods. And those on high-fruit diets eating fewer of those foods will be eating fruit in such large quantities that iron requirements should be met easily. (I analysed my own high-fruit diet using Cronometer, and I'd exceeded the daily iron RNI.)

The raw fooder's diet will be high in Vitamin C, found in fresh fruit and vegetables, maximising the chances of iron ingested being absorbed.

Women of child-bearing age eating raw will generally bleed far less (and thus lose less iron) than women on standard cooked diets.

(Raw fooders may well have lower Hb counts than meat-eaters, but...see below.)


I'd suggest not likely, but there would be more reason for a high raw fooder than an all-raw fooder to be low on iron. The good news is that high raw fooders concerned about iron have lots of opportunies to improve their diets so that more iron is ingested and/or absorbed.

But, first, let's look at 'low on iron' more closely.

A common scenario: the happy little raw fooder, feeling hale and hearty, has a 'routine' blood test and is told they are 'low on iron'. The mouth turns down...and of course stress isn't good for health!

Iron can be measured in various ways, but the most common is the Hb count (haemoglobin concentration). In broad terms, 14 gm/dl of blood ('dl' = decilitre = 1/10 litre = 100 ml) is said to be 'average', less than 12 gm/dl is said to be 'low', and below 10 gm/dl 'anaemic'. However, I'd suggest that if iron is just a little lower than the average and there are no symptoms of deficiency, then there is probably nothing to be concerned about. Bear in mind that studies as to what is an optimum iron level will have been carried out on the population in general, which of course includes meat-eaters. Iron may well be higher in meat-eaters, but that doesn't necessarily equal good. What's 'normal' is not necessarily healthy.

For the 20 years preceding raw, I followed a cooked meat-less diet. As a blood donor several times I was told I couldn't donate due to 'low iron'. However, in all those years I had more energy and was healthier than most people I knew, and had no iron deficiency symptoms. Those who do feel 'tired'...this could be due to so many things. People who are neglecting their health in various ways, eg through overwork, not enough sleep, not enough fresh air, negative thinking...can easily feel tired. As raw fooders are more knowledgeable about nutrition than the average, it's tempting to look for the answer to problems in what we're eating, but we should also remember that as raw fooders our very good diets are the least likely to be responsible.

And some studies are suggesting that 'low' blood iron may not be such a bad thing...Cancer Prevention Research Trust UK: 'low blood iron helps protect you from cancer as well as from bacterial infections.' 'The greater the iron concentration in a person's blood, the greater risk of developing cancer', says epidemiologist Richard Stevens of the Pacific Northwest Laboratory in Richmond, Wash, US.

Here's a little more on iron and whether 'normal' is healthy, from my article on health reasons for not eating meat:

John Robbins discusses meat and iron in his book 'Healthy at 100'. Paraphrasing the information in pp149-51, for many people one of the 'health' reasons they might give for eating meat is the iron in it. The iron in meat is called 'heme iron', and the iron found in plant foods is 'nonheme' iron. 'Heme iron' is certainly more easily absorbed by our bodies than nonheme iron and some people have taken this to mean that, because of this, nonheme iron is in some way inferior to heme iron. But excess iron poses dangers to health. Antioxidants are deservedly recognised for their role in preventing cancer and other illness. But iron is the opposite of an antioxidant; it is a potent oxidant. Excess iron causes the production of free radicals hich can damage cells, leading to disease.

'For example, when sufficient quantities of heme iron are present, as is likely to happen when diets contain appreciable quantities of beef, cholesterol is oxidised into a form that is more readily absorbed by the arteries, leading to increased rates of heart disease. With nonheme iron - the kind found in plants - it's a totally different story. Your body absorbs only what it needs.'

Dr Thomas T Perls (Harvard expert on longevity): 'It's possible that higher iron levels, which may have been considered 'normal' only because they are common in males, actually speed the aging process.' According to Dr Perls, lower iron levels in adults (up to a point, of course) are an advantage and that 'it may turn out that adults, and perhaps even adolescents, are speeding up their aging clocks by maintaining iron levels that are now considered 'normal', but may in fact be excessive.'

However, in the cases where Hb is very low and there are symptoms indicative of too little iron, there are several ways in which iron intake and/or absorption can be increased:

1. Increase consumption of foods particularly high in iron, as per chart above.
2. Increase consumption of fruit (sweet and non-sweet) to increase Vitamin C, which helps iron absorption.
3. Decrease consumption of tea and coffee.
4. For women - increase percentage of raw food, as all-raw women generally have lighter periods, meaning less iron lost, therefore less needs to be ingested.

And...get more sleep (sometimes more easily said than done!).

Dr Ron Cridland, MD, believes that deep sleep is crucial for iron. Dr C , in his lecture 'Energy: The Key to Health.' says that he would test people and find that they were low in iron/anaemic, but that they had normal levels of ferritin. He explained that ferretin is essentially the iron stored in the bones and that during Level 4 sleep (the stage before REM), ferretin is involved in distributing stored iron through the blood. So, with adequate levels of deep sleep his patients would recover without changing their diet or taking a supplement. (Thanks to Nick Sirpo for this.)

Should a supplement be taken?

There are many reasons for looking to food rather than supplementation to increase iron.

Natural Hygienist Dr Virginia Vetrano warns against synthetic iron: '...iron supplements have an irritating effect upon the gastrointestinal mucosa. Anything that affects the mucosa disturbs, interferes with, and impairs normal absorption and selection of natural nutrients.'

Cancer Prevention Research Trust UK Guideline 7: 'Avoid iron tablets and food with added iron.' (Did you know that iron added to food is often simply in the form of iron filings? I'm told that if cereal is put in a plastic bag, mushed up and shaken and a magnet run over it, the iron filings in the cereal will stick to the magnet.)

The taking of mineral supplements, whether synthetic or 'natural', where the mineral is ingested in isolated form rather than in correct proportions with the other minerals and vitamins present in foods, runs the risk of creating all sorts of imbalances. For example, calcium and zinc supplements have been shown to decrease iron absorption. Iron supplements themselves have in high doses been shown to decrease zinc absorption. But, when we eat a whole raw food, we can be sure that the iron in that food is there in just the right amount to work with the other minerals and vitamins in that food.

I found this from Mike Benton, a Natural Hygienist writing in the Eighties, that explains it beautifully: 'The mineral iron that is present in a cherry, for example, is readily absorbed and used by the body because the other necessary elements for the absorption of iron co-exist in the cherry or food itself. For instance, ascorbic acid aids the absorption of iron in the body by helping to convert ferric to ferrous iron. The cherry has the needed ascorbic acid present with the ferric iron compounds. If you swalled a pill that had the iron extracted from the cherry but not the accompanying ascorbic acid, then your body would simply not have the needed co-existing elements to use the iron.'

I'd suggest high-raw people concerned about iron explore every avenue possible in which iron can be increased via food rather than resorting to supplements, the use of which at least in some cases has been shown to be harmful rather than beneficial, and, at least, is controversial. For more on supplements, see my article here.

It was sad to hear someone accusing a nutrition expert recently of preferring to see her in ill-health than have her take a supplement, when he had in fact given her all the steps necessary to increase her iron naturally - steps that would have benefited her health in countless ways had she been willing to implement them.

Postscript Feb '10 - at the time of writing this article I didn't actually know my own iron level. However, I had it checked recently and, although I don't have the exact figure, was told by the doc that it's 'normal' (!).

Monday, 4 May 2009

Mellifluous Melons

Mellifluous: 'sweet; as if with honey'.

I've a passion for melons right now, and the shops are beginning to stock some deliciously juicy, and, most importantly, ripe ones!

As well as tasting amazing, melons are one of the most healthy fuel sources in that they are simple carbohydrates, that is, they digest quickly and easily, and contains lots of nutrients. For example, the USDA Nutrient Database tells us that a cantaloupe melon scores highly on: Vitamin C (three times RDA), Vitamin A (120% of RDA) and potassium (92% of RDA). It does well on: magnesium (22% ofRDA), Vitamin B1 (16%), Vitamin B3 (26%) and Vitamin B6 (20%). It contains small amounts (5-10% of RDA) of calcium, iron, zinc, Vitamins B2 and B5, and Vitamin E, and also includes 18 amino-acids from which our bodies make protein, and essential fatty acids in trace amounts. (And the 'cantaloupe' and pale-fleshed type melons are also the only fruits I can think of that are relatively high in sodium which make them a good source of sodium for those who prefer not to add salt to their food.)

And that's just cantaloupe! Melon nutritional profiles will vary, for example watermelon is particularly high in lycopene.

Anne Osborne, author of 'Fruitarianism, The Path to Paradise' has spent three periods in her life eating nothing but melon for months! Although her melon diets did include different sorts of melon, she did find that even when she ate one type alone for a while she would 'each day experience a myriad of new taste sensations.' Although conventional nutritionists would issue all sorts of dire warnings about such a diet, Anne says 'During my time on melons, my health and energy levels were always excellent and my weight remained at a stable 112 pounds.' And, on day 47 of a melon diet Anne came first in a walkathon out of 4000 people!

I had (just) a day 'mono-eating' melon exclusively recently. My energy level was high all day (from 4.30 am when I rose, to going to bed after an evening's salsa dancing), my tummy felt wonderfully calm, and it was dead flat throughout.)

Melons are best eaten alone. Of course, they are so delicious that who would dream of detracting from their delicate and beautiful flavour by combining them with other foods? (Well, OK, for those who would, 'food combining' principles for optimal digestion back me up here - melon is so quick to digest that if you mix it with, or eat it shortly after, food that is harder to digest than the melon (which is virtually any food, including most fruit), its exit will be blocked, meaning it will have to hang around, and it will ferment...and...blow-up! So, if you don't want the six months' pregnant look and some pain, eat me-lon a-lone.

But, melons..can get a bit confusing sometimes with all the different types, and it's so disappointing to come home and find you've got a dud one - one that's so unripe we hurt our hands trying to get a spoon into it it's that hard, and find the outer half of it so lacking in sweetness it might as well be a cucumber, or a squash. Melons, officially, do not ripen off the plant - they're non-climacteric. Some people do maintain that they improve after a few days, but this is basically softening due to decomposition rather than ripening, and they're unlikely to become any sweeter. A truly ripe melon is one that is sweet and flavoursome, where all the flesh is soft and edible, that is, none needs to be left in the rind hard and inedible. I think that optimal state comes a matter of hours before it starts to ferment; it is in fact rare to find a melon at that sublime stage of perfection, but when that time!

We have three options available to us if we've bought an unripe melon. We the whole thing because it cost a fortune. Snag - our bodies don't welcome unripe fruit and it will be a somewhat frustrating experience. We could...throw it away. Snag - money wasted. Or we could...(best option) take it back to the shop (or market) and complain. The more of us who do that the more it increases the chance of the shop stocking ripe melons in future. And if it's a chain, follow it up with an e-mail to the fruit buyer at the shop's head office.

In this article, I'll be sorting through the different types of melon, or at least those available in the UK. They come from all over the world - Southern Europe, Africa, Americas - basically any part of the world that can be sure of at least a few months of hot weather each year can grow melons. And, as melons won't ripen once picked, I'll offer tests for ripeness that should (at least for any of you 'so-so' about melons due to mediocre experiences of the past) raise your melon-eating to another level!

There are three main groups of melon:

  • Orange-flesh (eg cantaloupe, charentaise)

  • Pale-flesh (eg galia, honeydew, piel de sapo)

  • Watermelon (in a class of its own!)


Orange-flesh melons all fall within the 'canteloupe' type. What they have in common is that (generally) they are relatively small, round, and have orange flesh. The aroma is 'perfumed' (the cantaloupe type have historically been referred to as 'muskmelons'), they taste beautifully sweet, and the discriminating palate (ie my readers) will detect beta-carotene.

Sometimes they'll be called 'cantaloupe' ('rockmelon' in Australia) and sometimes Charentais (the flavours are similar). In my experience, cantaloupe usually have rough, 'netted' skin, but can be ribbed/striped or plain. Charentais are always ribbed and have either netted, or relatively smooth skin. 'Cantaloupe types' are often pale grey-green, but sometimes cream or yellow-brown.

Thanks to Anne Osborne for this quote from Saint-Amant, writing in the 17th century about Charentais melons: 'This melon is...better than strawberries and cream, better than the Holy pear of Tours or the sweet green fig. Even the Muscat grape I love is bitterness and muck compared to this divine melon. O sweet grassy snake, crawling on a green bed. It is Apollo's masterpiece. The brothels of Rouen will be free of the pox...tobacco smokers will have white teeth...I will forget my love's flavours before I forget you - O fleur de tous les fruits! O ravisant MELON!'

(I think he liked them.)

Ripeness test: the skin may be tinted orange (though I've had many ripe ones where this hasn't been the case). The 'cantaloupe' type melons are ripe when they give a little (just a little) at one end and a sweet aroma emanates from the base. Stores will often label them 'ripe' before this stage, but they're not. They may taste pleasant, but will be so much softer and sweeter when ripe.

Fruitarian Anne Osbourne says that 'big-bottomed melons' tend to be riper (and please see Comments at the foot of the article for other tests of ripeness.)

Be wary of an 'all-over' softness (rather than just at the base) as, especially if accompanied with lack of aroma or an aroma that isn't sweet, as this is usually an indication that the melon has simply been on the shelf for a while, that is, it has started to rot. Any type of melon that is past its best can result in discomfort via gas and 'blow-up', and even pain....(I've been here.)



The Galia has yellow/green rough skin and looks a little like a 'canteloupe type' from the outside, although generally bigger. The flesh is pale green with a flavour somewhere between a cantaloupe and a honeydew.

Ripeness test: The skin will be more yellow than green, and the base fragrant.


In the UK, the melon that most of us from childhood have tended to associate most with 'melon'. Bright yellow smooth skin. Pale yellow/green flesh. Rugby ball (American football) shape. If the petrol station has any melons, they'll be Honeydews! And I'm wondering if that's why I've detected just a wee bit of snobbery in raw food circles about the Honeydew. I must admit I've tended to pass over it a bit in recent years in favour of the more unusual types, but I've recently rediscovered Honeydews and feel very apologetic to them for having ignored them for so long, as a good Honeydew always has been, and still is...exquisite!

Ripeness test: in general, I've found supermarkets are better at buying ripe Honeydews than ripe cantaloupes and around 75% of those I've bought have been good. Unlike cantaloupes, sniffing is not generally helpful - the ripe honeydews I've had have had no smell from the outside. Some feel that if a faint knock/rattle can be heard on shaking the melon that indicates loose seeds and therefore ripeness, but I can't say I've found this to be a reliable indicator myself. Someone did say to me recently that a slight 'give' at the base, as for orange-fleshed melons, can be an indicator of ripeness, but I think that, with the Honeydew, in general you just have to take your chances...!

Piel de Sapo

Same shape as the Honeydew, but with a skin of various mid/dark green hues (Piel de Sapo translates as 'toad skin'). Pale yellow/green flesh. I remember the first time I had a Piel de Sapo, and felt I had never in my life tasted anything so delicious. So I went back to the supermarket and bought two more. I then learned that the first one I'd had had been at the peak of ripeness. The subsequent two weren't.

Ripeness test: look for patches of yellow on the skin.


I've found the best watermelons to have vivid red flesh and black seeds. We've had anaemic pale pink virtually seedless ones at times, and they've been flavourless and unripe (I did have one with yellow flesh at Raw Spirit Festival, Sedona, US, and it tasted good!).

Most watermelons on sale in the UK are relatively small, round 'mini' watermelons. But I did buy a huge oval-shaped one at a farmers' market in San Diego, US, and I've only found one watermelon in the UK that has come anywhere near it for flavour. That was one bought one week in winter at Waitrose. But before you all in the south of the UK go rushing out, I'm afraid that the next week the watermelons were all very average again. Watermelons - bit of a lottery here.

Beware of watermelons that have been mucked about with. I've heard that seedless watermelons are the product of crossing a 'female tetrapoid' plant (itself the product of genetic manipulation) with 'diploid pollen'. Also, plant geneticists (I do have more information on this if required) are developing low-sugar, high-lycopene watermelons. This is because fruit gets a bad press with diabetics (for a positive assessment of fruit re diabetes see here) but lycopene has been identified as a (prostate) 'cancer fighter'. One 'food technologist' has noticed that 'People like to eat red watermelon. They associate a pale-pink colour with unripe melon.' (Um, yes...) And, yes, they're busy developing a 'commercially acceptable, low-sugar, high-pigment watermelon.' One geneticist is reported as saying that people can use artificial sweeteners if they wish to 'full duplicate the taste found in regular watermelon.' Well, whoopy-doos! Doesn't it make you crying?

Watermelon has been the subject of various research studies extolling its various health benefits (eg 'like Viagra', lowers blood pressure etc). I am sure all of these things are true, just as I believe they would be true for all sorts of other fruits that haven't yet been given the benefit of a research grant.

There are various tests of ripeness. The watermelon should be very heavy, and, when tapped, emit a hollow sound. Problem with that of course is that if all the watermelons on the shelf are at the same degree of ripeness, they'll all feel the same and sound the same, and I haven't had much success with that method. Some say that the larger and yellower the yellow patch at the base of the watermelon is, the riper it is. The tip that's worked for me recently (thanks to 'Dream' of the 30BananasaDay forum) is to scratch the peel. If it comes off quite easily, the melon is ripe. (If it comes off very easily it might be a bit mealy and past its best - and definitely don't buy if it 'gives' all over - watermelons should be firm. ).You'll know for certain when you put the knife in. If it falls apart easily, the flesh is vibrant red and firm, you've got a beauty. The ripest watermelons can be bashed and literally pulled apart with hands - so I'm told - we don't get them like that in the UK!


If you live somewhere with long hot summers, where melons are grown, no problem - just buy some seeds of the melons that are known to be suited to your particular climate. I understand that seeds saved from melons you've bought just aren't the ticket, as they're hybridized and won't grow 'true to type'. But, when you buy seeds, ask if they're 'open pollinated heirloom', varieties, as the seeds from melons you grow from those can be used the following year.

As to whether melons can be grown in the UK and similar cool climates. Well, they can, sometimes, possibly...definitely by experts in greenhouses, and sometimes by non-experts in greenhouses. But it does seem that at least three months of hot weather is needed. As we do very occasionally have summers like that in the UK, I'll be ordering some melon seeds and will have a go.


I hope I've inspired you to go off your local supermarket, organic co-op, farmers market, and ...load up with melons. And forget a 'slice' of melon, or even half. Make a MEAL of melon today!



(I'm attending this one - would be great to see you there!)

80/10/10 Spring Gathering '09 and Simply Delicious Culinary Skills Workshop

Saturday 9th May 2009, 9 am - 7 pm

Learn the secrets to making beautiful, delicious, raw, high-fruit meals. Discover how to entertain your loved ones with gourmet 811 dishes. This 'hands-on' seminar with Dr Doug Graham will change the way you eat your dinner meal forever.

£100 includes fruit lunch and 'exotic' dinner.

Trinity Methodist Church, Thakeham Rd, Storrington, Sussex RH20 3NG.

Contact for more information.