Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge 2017: October Edition

Kate Chury Dietitian NW Calgary

Phew….you did it! You survived September.

It seems sometimes that we hit the ground running in September (especially if you have kids going back to school or resuming extracurricular activities). September is busy (like super busy) for many of us and there is often a sense of relief after you’ve survived it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it gets any easier after September, it’s just that the routines become...well, more routine. You’ve begun to settle into your schedule and find a groove (hopefully, right?!). That’s the very reason that I set meal planning at the healthy eating goal for September in my Journey to Healthy Eating Challenge. Meal planning is the first step to healthy eating in my books. 

If you’ve read any of my past posts, you’ll know that I love meal planning. Or more precisely, I love the result of my meal planning efforts. The truth is that sitting down to plan meals isn’t always my favourite thing to do but it helps me out immensely. Some things I find super helpful to consider when meal planning are:

  • Planning meals that lead to leftovers for another day.
  • Planning easy (and quick) meals on nights when I have less time.
  • Pre-cutting or washing fruits and vegetables so that they are ready when I need them.
  • Planning meals with more hardy vegetables later in the week (as they are less likely to go bad). This minimizes grocery store trips and ensures I still get fresh veggies!
  • Taking an inventory of my freezer, fridge and pantry so that I can use up what I have.
  • Planning some one pot, slow cooker or sheet pan meals to cut down on dinner clean up.

For more meal planning tips, check out my post 10 Ways to Meal Plan Like a Nutrition Expert.



Calgary NW dietitian Kate Chury RD Iron

October Challenge: Focus on Iron


October’s Journey to Healthy Eating Challenge is all about dietary iron. Iron is needed by the body to maintain healthy blood cells, specifically our hemoglobin cells, which transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is also involved with a number of enzymatic reactions, synthesis of DNA, nerve transmission and protein synthesis. So essentially, it's really important that we have enough of it!

While the majority of Canadians have sufficient iron levels (with normal serum ferritin and hemoglobin), there are some population groups that do struggle to maintain adequate iron stores within their body.  Those at highest risk include:

  • Infants and children
  • Women of childbearing age
  • Pregnant women
  • Vegans and vegetarians
  • People with medical conditions which affect nutrient absorption (i.e. celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease) or those with conditions that cause blood loss (i.e peptic ulcer).

The reason why iron is such a concern is that iron deficiency can lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Poor appetite, poor growth and behavioural problems (in children)
  • Strange food cravings (like dirt or clay)


Before we get into which foods contain iron, it’s good to get an idea of how much iron we actually need. Below is a chart of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for iron. As you can see, women (especially pregnant women), infants, and children have the highest iron needs.

So, how do we get enough iron? Eating iron rich foods is one thing but so is being aware of the other dietary factors that can either enhance or hinder iron absorption is another.

First let’s talk about iron-rich foods. Both plant and animal-based foods can contain iron. As a rule, iron found in animal-based foods such as meat, fish, and poultry is much better absorbed (this iron is called heme iron) while plant-based iron is not as well absorbed (this is non-heme iron). This is why those following a plant-based diet may have a harder time keeping their iron stores within a healthy range.


Non-heme iron:

  • Tofu (3/4 cup - 2.4-8.0 mg)
  • Lentils (¾ cup - 4.1-4.9 mg)
  • Pumpkin seeds, roasted (¼ cup - 4.6 mg)
  • Chickpeas (¾ cup - 3.5 mg)
  • Spinach, cooked (½ cup - 2.0-3.4 mg)
  • Tomato puree (½ cup - 2.4 mg)
  • Edamame (½ cup - 1.9-2.4 mg)
  • Potato, cooked with skin (1 medium - 1.3-1.9 mg)
  • Snow peas (½ cup - 1.7 mg)

Heme iron:

  • Liver*, chicken (2.5 oz - 9.66 mg)
  • Liver*, beef (2.5 oz - 4.9 mg)
  • Beef, various cuts (2.5 oz - 1.3-3.3 mg)
  • Sardines, canned (2.5 oz - 1.7-2.2 mg)
  • Chicken, various cuts (2.5 oz - 0.4-2.0 mg)
  • Fish, mackerel/trout/bass (2.5 oz - 1.4-1.7mg)
  • Tuna, canned (2.5oz - 1.2 mg)
  • Egg, large (0.6-0.9 mg)

Iron-fortified foods:

  • Oatmeal, instant (¾ cup - 4.5-6.6 mg)
  • Cream of wheat (¾ cup - 5.8 mg)
  • Soda crackers (6 crackers - 1.5-2.3 mg)
  • Bread, whole wheat (1 slice - 1.1 mg)
  • Egg noodles, enriched (½ cup - 1.2 mg)

*Please note, for pregnant women: although liver is a rich source of iron, it also contains a high amount of pre-formed vitamin A which may cause birth defects. If you choose to eat liver, it is recommended that you limit your intake to 2 1/2 oz (75 g) per week. 

For more information about iron in foods check out this resource from Dietitians of Canada and Canadian Nutrient File.


Along with the iron in foods, there are certain food components that can either increase or decrease its absorption. Vitamin C is particularly good at helping plant-based (or non-heme iron) with absorption. If you are eating a mostly plant-based diet, it’s a great idea to pair plant-based iron with fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C.

Dietary factors such as phytic acid (found in whole grains, legumes and nuts), oxalic acid (found in beets, spinach, Swiss chard, and more), tannic acid (in coffee and tea), egg proteins, as well as, dietary calcium can inhibit iron absorption. For those prone to iron deficiency, it may be necessary to avoid some of these dietary factors that make it hard for iron to be absorbed. That being said, the first line of attack against low iron levels should be to make sure your diet includes iron-rich foods. If a diet rich in iron and vitamin C does not suffice, it may be advisable to look at decreasing the amount of iron inhibitors in your diet. However, because the foods that contain some of these inhibitors do provide us with many beneficial nutrients, I’d advise against completely avoiding them. First, I’d start with making sure coffee and tea consumption isn’t excessive and is being consumed away from those iron-rich foods. Then, I may move on to cutting down on those foods with extremely high amounts of phytic or oxalic acid or at least eating them away from sources of dietary iron. It also may be necessary to rearrange when calcium supplements or dairy products are consumed. Of course, dietary manipulation doesn’t always work to improve iron levels and your doctor may rightly suggest a temporary stint on iron supplements. While under medical supervision for iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, it is still advisable to focus on obtaining adequate dietary iron. The hope here is that iron supplementation will bring your iron levels up to normal and then these supplements can be tapered down or discontinued. At this point an iron rich diet should be continued and will keep your stores where they need to be.


*Please note*

For the purpose of this article, the focus of how to get more iron is NOT for those with health conditions causing loss of blood. Iron deficiency from blood loss is a serious medical condition and needs to be treated by a doctor. For those with absorption issues, this information is relevant but the underlying cause of the malabsorption must be addressed before any increase in dietary iron will make an impact. It also may be advisable, depending on the level of iron deficiency, that iron supplements be prescribed. Your doctor will give you guidance on this issue and monitor your iron stores appropriately. 



Stay tuned for next month’s Challenge!


  • Find January's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
  • Find February's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.  
  • Find March's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.  
  • Find April's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here
  • Find May's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here
  • Find June's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here
  • Find July's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here
  • Find August's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here
  • Find September's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here