What You Need to Know about Diet & Nutrition in Hemochromatosis
Eating a nutrient-rich, substantive diet helps us to stay strong and healthy.
A very common reaction upon first hearing a diagnosis of hemochromatosis is to stay away from any iron rich foods.
It’s natural to feel anxious in this situation. If you are concerned with how to eat when facing iron overload, it is common to ask:
- How will my life change?
- What do I have to give up?
- Can I really never eat steak again?
- Do I have to become a vegetarian?
- Do I really have to stop eating healthy foods like spinach or oranges?
- What can I eat- I’m so confused?!?
In discussing the best choices for a hemochromatosis diet, I want to emphasize what we can and should eat as opposed to what we cannot eat. Focusing upon what we can't have generally leads to feelings of stress, anxiety, and guilt. Of course we will want to reduce the foods high in iron, yet it is a rare situation to need to entirely avoid a specific type of food.
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Important Considerations to Keep in Mind for a Hemochromatosis Diet
Fortunately, I did my research to familiarize myself with a diet helpful for hemochromatosis, and found that there are only a small number of strict dietary restrictions that we must follow. We also have a few considerations to keep in mind that relate to our nutritional choices.
Before we get to dietary specifics, another important consideration to keep in mind is your level of iron overload. The following factors may be very important to how strict or how casual your dietary restrictions should be:
- Genetics- Homozygote, Compound Heterozygote, or Heterozygote
- Iron Metabolism- Absorption, Use, and Storage of Iron
- Lab tests- Ferritin Level and Transferrin Saturation
- Your age, gender, how long ago you were diagnosed, and the current state of your treatment
The greater the level of iron overload you have, the more cautious your dietary choices need to be.
The Most Important Restrictions
The most important restrictions in a hemochromatosis diet include:
- Avoiding Iron Supplements
- Avoiding Raw Seafood
- Avoiding, or Strictly Reducing Alcohol Intake
Iron supplements often contain much higher levels of iron than do foods. Additionally, supplemental iron is often created for maximal absorption-- that is the last thing we need!
Raw seafood and hemochromatosis do not mix. A bacterium called Vibrio Vulnificus is present in raw seafood and proliferates in an environment of too much iron. Though very rare, this bacteria has caused serious complications and even death.
Alcohol may compromise the health of our liver-- which just so happens to be the most sensitive organ to iron overload. Plus, alcohol has an effect of enhancing iron absorption of food. The combination can be very serious.
Iron Rich Foods to Limit
Again, we do not have to eliminate foods high in iron. I did a quick bit of math, and if my calculations are correct, one therapeutic phlebotomy removes the iron absorbed from 18 pounds of red meat.
If your symptoms are severe and your health is seriously at risk, however, reducing the most iron rich foods is important:
- Heme Iron Containing Foods
- Non-Heme Iron Containing Foods
- Iron Fortified Foods
Heme Iron is derived from animal foods, and Non-Heme Iron is derived from plant based foods.
Learn more about Heme vs Non-Heme Iron in Food
Specific Nutrients to Limit
Again, although it seems like a no-brainer, make absolutely certain that you do not take any iron supplements or supplements that contain iron.
The following nutrients specifically enhance iron absorption from meals. Whether from food or from a supplement, care should be taken to avoid these nutrients when consuming foods high in iron:
- Vitamin C
- Beta Carotene
While iron, vitamin c, and beta carotene are all essential nutrients that we cannot function without, a combination of these vitamins and minerals at the same time can have an additive effect on iron absorption. Do your best to get your vitamin C and beta carotene AWAY from iron ingestion.
Specific Nutrients to Encourage
The following nutrients specifically reduce iron absorption from meals.
Whether from food or from a supplement, please include these health enhancing and life-saving nutrients a major part of your diet and supplement regimen:
If you have hemochromatosis, be sure to check with your doctor prior to starting any supplement, diet, or exercise routine.
A Diet Helpful for Hemochromatosis
Recall, hemochromatosis is a genetic condition of too much iron absorption.
A proper hemochromatosis diet, as a result, is often based upon other nutrient factors that enhance or diminish the uptake of iron by the body.
Certain food and supplement choices can absolutely make a positive impact.
I personally feel that our attention should be focused on the addition of these iron absorption blocking nutrients... on top of our overall, healthy, delicious and nutritious diet.
And while I have outlined several restrictions to keep in mind, please understand that there are so many nutrients our bodies need.
Foods that happen to have some iron in them also have an abundance of the very most health promoting vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients to help us be healthy and strong.
These foods should be included!
Nourishing our bodies and enjoying our food are just some of the many reasons why a hemochromatosis diet should not be too restrictive.
To Learn More: The Hemochromatosis Help Diet Book is the most comprehensive, evidence-based, and user-friendly guide that's ever been created about the use of diet and supplements for hemochromatosis and iron overload.
This heavily researched book pulls from the medical literature to provide simple, practical, everyday strategies to be used by those facing iron overload. There's no other book out there that clearly spells out in an easy-to-understand way how to think about food, which special nutrients and foods can protect you, what precautions to take, and which commonly made suggestions may not be the best advice.
Put these tips into action and make a difference in your health today!
Gain Insight & Learn How to Help Manage Iron Overload
Dr. Eric Lewis is a naturopathic physician who also has hereditary hemochromatosis. With his unique perspective of being both a practitioner and a patient, he brings new insight into holistic approaches to iron overload, providing new understanding about the best diet and supplementation strategies to help support health with hemochromatosis.