By Alane Archer, ND, CNC
It’s true! Acidic foods like tomatoes can react with the metal in a cast-iron skillet and absorb some of the iron molecules. Cooking with an iron skillet can be a safe and effective way to increase your iron intake.
So, how much of a difference does this make in the iron content of foods? Potentially, a lot!
Researchers cooked several foods in new cast iron skillets and found, for example, that the amount of iron in spaghetti sauce increased from less than a milligram to almost 6 mg per serving. Applesauce absorbed, even more, going from 0.35 mg to 7.3 mg per 100g serving. Scrambling eggs in a new iron skillet increased the iron content from 1.5 mg to almost 5mg. (Brittin HC, Nossaman CE. The iron content of food cooked in iron utensils. J Am Diet Assoc. 1986;86:897–901. )
The higher the acidity of the food and the longer you cook it, the more iron is transferred to the food. Foods that contain more water also seem to absorb more iron. But you probably won’t be adding quite as much iron to your meals as the researchers in this study because they were using new pans.
Now, the nutritionists who did the study didn’t make any comment about how the foods tasted after they were cooked in the iron skillets. But it’s probable that the meals that absorbed the most iron also picked up a metallic taste.
In a similar experiment conducted from an entirely different point of view, the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine found that cooking acidic foods even in well-seasoned cast-iron pans can impart a metallic flavor to foods if you cook them long enough. Tomatoes that were cooked for 15 minutes in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet absorbed no off flavors, but those cooked for 30 minutes did. Foods that were either less acidic or that were cooked more briefly picked up no off flavors.
Because they’re more concerned with the success of your recipes than your nutritional status, Cook’s Illustrated recommends that you use stainless steel cookware when cooking acidic foods for more than a few minutes to reduce the chance that your dish ends up with an unpleasant metallic taste.
But even the small amounts of iron that you will add to your diet by using your well-seasoned cast-iron cookware to cook non-acidic foods can add up to a meaningful increase in your iron intake.
A simple hair analysis test for iron and other nutrients and metals can determine if you have a deficiency or an iron toxicity.
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Medical disclaimer: Our tests cannot be used to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. All test results are to be used as educational materials and as a guide to help support your overall health and wellness. Always discuss health concerns with your medical doctor.