I struggle with anemia. Between my Crohn's Disease and having been pregnant and/or nursing for over seven consecutive years, my iron levels can get pretty low. While pregnant I always experience a dip in my hemoglobin levels in the beginning of the third trimester, where I test around 8.0 (normal range for women is between 12.0-15.5 and slightly lower at 11.0 during pregnancy). I've also had flare-ups of Crohn's Disease in which my anemia is so bad that they were considering blood transfusions.
Because of this problem, I've had to find ways to deal with my anemia through diet. Traditional iron supplementation is not a good solution, as most iron supplements can make constipation even worse during pregnancy and are typically made up on non-heme iron that does not absorb well at all. And if you have a child who is suffering from anemia, supplements can be dangerous because children often overdose on iron. It really is best to focus on getting your iron through your diet and also making sure you aren't eating foods that leach the iron from your system or inhibit its absorption.
There are two forms of dietary iron - heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes from animal-based sources that are full of hemoglobin, such as meat and fish. Non-heme iron comes from plant-based sources like beans and fortified grains and is not absorbed as well into the body. In fact, the reason that grains are fortified with things like iron is because the food itself, when improperly prepared, can actually leach iron from your body.
Besides avoiding grains and improperly prepared beans and legumes, when I'm dealing with anemia I also avoid black tea, which is full of tannins that decrease iron absorption (lighter teas, like white and green do not seem to have the same effect). I also make sure not to eat any dairy or other calcium-rich food with my iron-rich foods. Just making those small changes to my diet has increased my hemoglobin score four points in one month during pregnancy, without having to take an iron supplement.
I obviously also try to increase my heme iron intake. During pregnancy, I follow a form of the Brewer Diet and try to eat iron-rich organ meat at least once a week, usually in the form of pastured beef liver. The problem with this is that there are times during pregnancy where nausea makes stomaching the very potent smell and taste of the liver nearly impossible. Because of this, it helps to get creative with your liver consumption. One way to do that is to freeze your liver in small chunks and swallow them whole like a pill throughout the day. If you're like me and have a strong gag reflex during pregnancy, that may not be the best solution.
Making your own iron pills is easy and a great solution to this problem. People often use this process after pregnancy to encapsulate their placenta - dehydrate the meat, grind it down into a powder, and fill your empty gelatin capsules.
Here is how I did it with pastured beef liver (remember to only use pastured beef liver that is from a reputable source). First, I cut the liver into thin strips, placed it on a cookie sheet, and baked it in the oven on the lowest setting possible (170) for approximately ten hours. You do NOT want to put the iron in your dehydrator inside of the house, because the smell will be horrible and will take a really long time to air out. Having it in the oven is also pretty noxious, but not nearly as bad as it would be in the dehydrator. Within 24 hours the smell was gone in my kitchen when I dried it out in the oven.
Once your liver is dry, put it in the food processor until it is ground into a fine powder:
Next, take empty gelatin capsules and fill them with the powder. For mine, I used these:
I was making these for my six-year-old son, who has a hard time with swallowing bigger pills. If you're making these for an adult, you may want to use a larger size capsule. These #3 capsules only hold up to 360 mg of the powder, while the 00 size can hold up to 1092 mg.
To fill them you just dump all of your powder into a bowl, take apart the capsule, scoop the powder into both ends and then put the capsule back together. So simple!
If you're like me and you battle anemia, you can feel it coming on. Whenever you're feeling a little run-down and irritable, just pop a handful of the capsules and let the liver do its magic. Remember to store your pills in the fridge.
You can also skip the encapsulation step and use your powder in other ways - put some in your meatloaf or burger patties for an extra iron punch, or in any other casserole that will hide the liver flavor well.
I add a tablespoon to my smoothies. 1 Tablespoon liver powder, 2 cups of homemade raw yogurt, 1 tablespoon of raw local honey, 1 tablespoon homemade nut butter, some raw spinach, and a cup of frozen fruit - talk about a superfood with all of the nutrients, probiotics, digestive healing, and allergy help!
My kids usually do well with eating cooked liver, but a smoothie is one way to get a picky child to consume it without a fight and to make it feel like a treat!