Q: When I was eating meat regularly, I was low in iron for several years, although I took iron supplements. Now that I am mostly vegan, my iron levels are high.
To counter the elimination of meat from my diet, I started cooking mostly in iron cookware, and I often drink hot tea from an iron teapot. Though my iron is not dangerously high, I am above the normal range, and my doctor has advised me to stop cooking and steeping in iron pots.
Perhaps those who are low in iron might consider cooking in an iron skillet. Foods that are acidic, like tomato-based dishes, are especially good at picking up iron from the pan. This could raise iron levels.
A: Thanks for this tip. Using cast-iron cookware is a simple but effective strategy to increase the amount of iron available in the diet (Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, July 1997).
This tactic may be especially important for those following vegetarian or vegan diets, since plant foods tend to be lower in iron and zinc (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2003).
Q: I have read in your column that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure. My question is, do we have to drink the juice, or can we just eat beets for blood-pressure control?
A: Nearly all of the research that has been done on this topic has used beet juice, presumably because it is more practical to provide a placebo for the juice than for actual beets on your plate. There is no reason to believe that the components of beet juice differ from those of the beet root, and one study used bread with beet baked into it (Journal of Nutrition, September 2013).
The only trouble is that, while we know the appropriate daily dose of juice (250 ml, approximately one cup), we don't know how many beets it takes to make a cup of juice (Hyper
tension, February 2015). You may need to experiment while monitoring your own blood pressure to figure out how many beets it takes.
Q: I have been eating a small square of dark chocolate every day, about 0.4 ounces. I have heard that the method of processing the chocolate is important to maximize the helpful compounds.
How could I find out which chocolate offers the most cocoa flavanols? Also, what is the correct amount to consume per day? I am concerned about cholesterol and blood sugar.
A: You are correct to conclude that cocoa compounds could have health benefits. Research has shown that cocoa polyphenols can reduce inflammation (Nutrients, Feb. 21, 2014) and raise HDL cholesterol (British Journal of Nutrition, Jan. 14, 2014).
Dark chocolate rich in flavanols also can reduce insulin resistance (Hypertension, August 2005).
We learned that the dark chocolate used in that study was Ritter Sport, but the dose was quite high: an entire 100 g bar per day.
The best source we know of to learn the flavanol concentration of chocolate is ConsumerLab.com's review.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is "Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them."