Healthy Dose of Heavy Metal


Photo Credit:  John P. Midgley/Corbis Outline

Is there such a thing as a healthy dose of heavy metal?  My Mom certainly thinks not – perhaps I should clarify I’m not referring to the face-melting guitar solo kind of heavy metal.  No, I’m talking about plain ole iron.  

Iron deficiency remains the number one nutrient deficiency worldwide, so we probably all need more, right?  It’s not so simple.  Even though it’s the number one deficiency, iron is still a heavy metal and must be approached with caution.  Let’s explore…


Remember your mom’s cast iron skillet?  The one that was so heavy if you could swing it and connect with your target you could totally take someone out??

cast iron skillet

In spite of the miracle that cast iron for cooking is, you may at this moment be recalling past ‘heavy metal poisoning’ headlines with alarm.  The usual players are mercury, lead, cadmium, and yes, they are seriously bad for the human body and need to be avoided at all costs. But that’s not the case with all heavy metals.

heavy metals hamro science jokes

We humans require  cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc in trace (aka ‘teensy’) amounts from food to perform crucial jobs in human metabolism.  While they are vital to vitality, just like their other ‘heavy’ friends, getting too much isn’t a good thing.

What’s a healthy dose of the heavy metal iron?  Turns out, it’s tricky.  Stick with me.  We’ll make sense of it.

Why iron is a must:  it’s incorporated into hemoglobin and carries oxygen in the bloodstream.  Since it’s kinda crucial to survival, in addition to the ‘working iron’ in hemoglobin, the body keeps reserve stores in the liver, heart, and pancreas (ferritin) to protect against short term deficiencies in the diet.


Source:  Masimo Corp

Not enough iron in the diet?  No problem in the short term, your body will use what’s stored to make hemoglobin for your newly minted red blood cells.  Long term, a deficiency results in iron deficiency anemia.

While iron deficiency anemia is no picnic and remains a worldwide health concern, too much stored iron in the body (hemochromatosis) is also hugely problematic, just not as widespread as deficiency.  Whether passed down genetically or brought on by lifestyle or other conditions, hemochromatosis left untreated will lead to failure of the liver, heart, and pancreas among other things.

Hemochromatosis is rare.  But ‘high’ levels of iron in storage and high levels of heme consumption are not rare.  Some research indicates that elevated ferritin (stored iron) and increased heme iron consumption is associated with poor outcomes for those with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In case you’re not a science junkie, the study designs aren’t strong enough to establish a clear ’cause and effect’ relationship, only for patterns to be identified and cue further research.  If that’s not enough of a reason to give you a moments pause before you consider supplementation with iron consider this.

The body has no natural way to release excess stored iron.  The only options for getting it out before it wreaks havoc are loss of blood (through blood donation, therapeutic phlebotomy, and menstruation) or drugs that chelate (bind to) the iron so it can be eliminated from the body.

Donate blood

Source:  Jonesblog

All of that to get to this:  what’s a healthy dose of this heavy metal we call iron?  Healthy individuals could refer to published guidelines here.   The guidelines are designed for people whose bodies are correctly regulating iron absorption from foods (which is the vast majority).

But if you feel something (or even a few things) are ‘off’ with your health and want to be sure you’re not getting too little or too much iron, the only way to know your status for sure is through a blood test.

If you think iron deficiency is the problem – you might be right.  Do you donate blood often?  Are you an elite female athlete engaged in rigorous training?  Pregnant?   Sure, deficiency might be the issue.

But it’s not a good idea to begin supplementing without being sure of your status and having that monitored.  Remember, excess iron has no natural way out and left unchecked can shut down a few organs you’d rather be up and running and behave badly in diabetic and heart disease patients.

So, with that said, if you’ve had a history of low iron levels and have that familiar out-of-breath dizzy feeling here’s a primer on how to include and absorb more iron in your diet.

There are two types of iron found in food:  heme (found in animal sources) and non-heme (found in plant sources).  Heme is more easily absorbed than non-heme.

Having calcium-rich foods with an iron-rich food leads to iron not getting absorbed.  Having vitamin C-rich foods or alcohol with iron rich foods means enhanced iron absorption.

Dairy productsVITAMINcinventedf1

Both of these (uber-simplistic) examples are trumped by a healthy human body’s ability to tightly regulate absorption based on the status of iron stores.  Whew!  Still with me?

So, what do you eat to get the most easily absorbed iron?   Beef liver, mussels, venison, lamb, beef, shrimp, pork, clams, chicken, and salmon.  Cook it (and anything) in cast iron and get even more!

Know you need to reduce iron stores?  Give blood.  If you choose to consume iron-rich foods, have a 300 milligram dose of calcium with them.  Don’t cook in cast iron.

Quick note on veggie sources of iron:  The tannins in tea and coffee, oxalates in sweet potatoes and spinach, phytic acid in greens and nuts, and phosphates all interfere with absorption of non-heme (non-animal source) iron.  Since non-heme iron containing veggies generally contain compounds that interfere with it’s absorption, it’s kind of a wash.

Summary:  If you are generally healthy, eat meat, or ever cook in cast iron, and do not have a history of low iron or suffer from hemachromotosis, your body is most likely regulating the right amount of absorption and storage for you.

If you suspect you are too low or too high, already suffer from diabetes, heart disease, or metabolic syndrome, work with a clinician to determine your iron status and together undertake the proper course of action from there.  Do NOT supplement with iron without getting checked first and being monitored.

Alrighty, that about does it for this post which, I hope you found helpful since you took the time to read.  Do you have a question you want answered?  Ask away – I love hearing from you.  Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts below!


Snow Day Soup

Comfort is a steaming-hot bowl of soup on a cold, snowy day.  This one’s full of flavor, satisfying, and it is officially a client and family favorite.

rustic italian tortellini soup

Photo and Recipe by Taste of Home.

Rustic Italian Tortellini Soup

3 Italian turkey sausage links (4 oz each), casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3.5 cups low sodium chicken broth
1-3/4 cups water
1-14.5 oz can low sodium diced tomatoes, undrained
1-9oz package refrigerated cheese tortellini
1-6oz package fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh basil or 3/4 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash crushed red pepper flakes (if you like heat)
Shredded Parmesan cheese to garnish (optional)

Crumble Sausage into a Dutch oven; add onion.  Cook and stir over medium heat until meat is no longer pink.  Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer.  Stir in the broth, water, and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil.

Add tortellini; return to a boil.  Cook for 7-9 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat; add the spinach, basil, pepper and pepper flakes.  Cook 2-3 minutes longer or until spinach is wilted.  Serve with cheese if desired.  Yield:  6 servings (2 quarts).

Nutrition:  1-1/3 cups = 203 calories, 8 g fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 878 mg sodium, 18 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 16 g protein

Have you tried this soup or have one you’d like to recommend?  Let’s hear it!

PB2: Is it good for you?

Yes, it’s real name is PB2.  No, I do not believe it was featured in any Star Wars films.  Powdered peanut butter – is it good for you?  Let’s dive right in….


PB2 has a short list of ingredients:  Roasted peanuts, sugar, and salt.  So how do they make it into a powder?  The peanuts are pressed to remove 85% of the oil and dehydrate what’s left.  Hmm, what’s lost when all that fat is extracted?  Check out the labels.

pb2 label pb regular label

By pressing out the oil and dehydrating what remains, the difference in fat per serving (hence, calories) is vast with PB2 delivering only 1/4 of the calories of conventional peanut butter.

Is this good or bad?  I think that depends on your specific situation and how you plan to use it.  Obviously, if you’re allergic – steer clear. If you have a condition that means your energy needs are increased – use the real thing.  Most seem to turn to PB2 when they want peanut butter flavor without adding the extra calories.

Just to be clear, I don’t advocate low-calorie diets – I eat about 2,000 a day myself.  That adds up faster than you think, especially when you avoid ‘reduced-fat’ anything like the plague (which, I do).

With most products where the fat has been lowered – something has been added to take its place.  Often the fat is lowered right along with the taste, texture, nutritional profile, and your satisfaction from eating.

What’s the point if the new lower fat version is higher in salt, sugar, delivers fewer nutrients, and doesn’t even taste that good or satisfy? 

Back to PB2 – are the trade-off’s worth it?

Are you a peanut butter lover that needs to reduce your overall energy intake?  Then yes, this is actually a ‘clean’ option for you.

There are no strange chemical names or preservatives added.  PB2 contains added sodium and sugar, but no more than exists in whole peanut butter.  PB2 contains less fat, and the fat-soluble Vitamin E. But most clients I work with would not be adversely affected by a reduction in overall energy and fat intake.

Prefer organic?  Look into a brand called Just Great Stuff.

Most of my clients are running a family and a business or job which consumes an enormous amount of time.  Putting their nutrition on auto-pilot with a high quality meal replacement shake one to two times per day is a life-saver for the super-busy.  PB2 is a great way to switch up the flavor, and keep those peanut butter lovers happy without greatly changing the nutrition profile of the shakes or add any unsavory additives in the process.   

You could check out the PB2 website for recipes and ideas if using it beyond the basic of adding the flavor to a shake appeals to you.

Did I mention it comes with chocolate?

pb2 choc

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried it.  I’m always up for fun ideas and recipes…fire away!

Better-For-You Superbowl Spread

Broncos vs. Seahawks kicks off Sunday at 6:30 pm.  Crafting and executing a winning game plan is THE top priority both teams this week.

Lucky for us, putting on a better-for-you Superbowl Spread is easy, thanks to some stellar online resources.

From kickoff to the 2 minute warning – this game plan has your nutrient bases (and your fun quotient) covered.  Check it out.  Click the links to access the full recipes and instructions.

Get the play action started with this Chipotle-esque Guacamole from Culinary Hill.  If you’re gonna have chips and a satisfying dip (ahem,  high fat, that is) homemade guacamole is a better-for-you choice.

Image reprinted with permission from “” and


Another great pre-game nosh:  Toasty Oven Chickpeas.  Delicious, nutrititous, and unexpected – always a good combo!  


Moving into half-time, it’s time to break out the main dish.   Check out this Buffalo Chicken Pizza.  Yes,  you get to combine buffalo wing flavors and pizza in one better-for-you option.

Image reprinted with permission from “” and www.healthyaperture.combufalo-chicken-pizza_5

I had to think long and hard about better-for-you desserts.  Fruit kabobs crossed my mind, but in the end, Chocolate Strawberry Footballs from Jackie on Domestic Fits won out.  An antioxidant rich crowd pleaser even your gluten-free friends can enjoy!


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this better-for-you Superbowl Spread and your ideas too.  Happy celebrating and may the best team win!