I've discovered recently that, although I'm not anemic, I have slightly below-ideal iron levels in my body. This is likely because, not only am I not a fan of red meat, I'm also pregnant! However, I've discovered through my health care practitioners that there are several meatless ways to increase iron levels in my system!
BENEFITS OF IRON
Iron is what makes red blood cells red (hemoglobin), and carry oxygen throughout the body -- a critical biological function. Several conditions can cause a deficiency of iron, including a lack of iron in the diet, but also excessive bleeding, surgery, infection, and pregnancy. Symptoms can include pale skin, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, palpitation, headache and backache. For best absorption of iron, consume with something rich in Vitamin C (lemons, orange juice, etc) and avoid combining with caffeine or calcium-rich foods, which counteract the iron.
~ pumpkin seeds (1/2 cup has a full day's worth of iron!)
~ chickpeas and lentils
~ beans (navy, kidney, lima)
~ dried apricots
~ blackstrap molasses
~ beets (whole or juiced)
~ lettuce, spinach, and other dark leafy greens
~ soy (beans, tofu or milk)
~ black sesame seeds
also: bananas, black grapes, plums, strawberries, raisins, onions, squash, radish, celery and tomatoes
COOKING WITH CAST IRON
This was an amazing discovery -- cooking with cast iron pots and pans will multiply the iron content in your foods by 3 or 4 times! So if a dish naturally has 50 milligrams of iron, it will jump to upto 200 milligrams by the simple act of cooking in cast iron. I'm thinking it's because the iron in foods draws out iron from the pan and incorporates it into the food -- kind of like a magnet. Though I've also heard that traces of the iron pans simply get passed into the food cooking in it, just like cooking in in copper pots will impart trace copper into foods, and (inversely healthful) teflon will get into your food by cooking on non-stick pans and same with aluminum. Another excellent reason to throw away your aluminum and non-stick cookware and replace them with cast iron!
Blood is Pitta so anemia and iron-related issues are a Pitta condition. Ayurvedically it is recommended to correct iron issues through diet, as listed above, and additionally eating cooked fenugreek leaves. Herbal supplement are also recommended, including Triphala (helps especially as a purgative, easing constipation). Specific yoga postures are also recommended, including shoulder stand, standing head-to-knee forward fold, and corpse pose.
Find more information on iron in the diet and also the ayurvedic guidelines for correcting anemia.