While iron deficiency is more common in developing countries than in the U.S., women, children, vegetarians and blood donors are at greater risk.
The Claim: Cast-iron pots and pans release iron into your food. Cooking in them is an inexpensive and convenient way to add the mineral to your diet, some scientists say.
The Verdict: It is true that cooking with cast iron can potentially add iron to your food, but the amount transferred and how well the body can absorb it varies widely depending on the acidity of the food and the cooking time, according to scientific studies. Separately, an iron ingot in the shape of a fish, when simmered in soup, was found in a recent study to cut anemia levels in rural Cambodian women, although the researchers say those results don’t apply to cast-iron skillets.
People with an iron deficiency shouldn’t rely on cooking in cast iron, says Sara Haas, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an organization of food and nutrition professionals. But it could be “a good way” to add iron—in addition to eating iron-rich foods— for anyone who is at risk for not getting enough, she says.
Since iron is soluble in acid, it will transfer to food more readily when cooking acidic foods, such as tomatoes or apples, says Fergus Clydesdale, a professor in the Department of Food Science at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Cooking in water will result in more iron transfer than frying in oil, he adds.