Did you know that the kind of vessel you cook your food in can make a difference in the nutritional value of the food you eat? In fact, the cast iron kadhai in your grandmother's kitchen may be your best bet when it comes to cooking food.
Using iron kadhais while cooking certain types of food can add on to the nutrition value of your food and boost haemoglobin levels.
In her Fitness Project 2021, celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Dwivekar, who has always advocated bringing back traditional methods of cooking food, speaks about how, especially during the pandemic, many people have been feeling lethargic and low on energy. According to her, a major reason for this is the deficiency in micronutrients, iron in particular.
How iron vessels help
Iron is important for ensuring your haemoglobin stays at the right level. By bringing back iron vessels such as the iron kadhai, iron tawa and iron ladle, you can boost your iron levels, naturally. By making this simple switch, you can boost your energy levels, blood haemoglobin levels and tackle problems like anaemia and sleep apnoea.
According to Dwivekar, this will also help reduce the need for taking iron pills and injections. Further, by using iron vessels for cooking food, you are also supporting local ironmongers.
This has scientific backing to it as well. In an experiment conducted in rural Cambodia, women who put an iron fish-shaped ingot into their pans while simmering soup, reported lower levels of anaemia. In many gurudwaras, cooks put an iron ladle in the dal once it is cooked to add on to the iron content.
The amount of iron that is transferred to your body, however, depends on the cooking time and your body’s ability to absorb iron.
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What low haemoglobin does to you
Iron in your body is stored in ferritin, a protein found in red blood cells which give your blood the red colour. Lack of iron can cause low haemoglobin levels. Haemoglobin is what transports oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues. A normal level of haemoglobin is 11 to 18 gms per deciliter (g/dL), depending on age and gender. However, as per the Mayo Clinic, anything below 13.5 gms per deciliter for men and 12 gms per deciliter for men, is considered as low.
If you have been exercising and not getting the results you wanted, you could be low on haemoglobin and not getting enough oxygen in your brain. If you have been feeling low, it could also be due to low levels of haemoglobin, as lack of oxygen in your brain can affect your mental health.
Low levels of haemoglobin are linked with diabetes, PCOD and low fertility. Haemoglobin is also important in preventing hair loss and ageing.
Haemoglobin levels go low any time you are going through UVF or chemotherapy.
For an adult, the daily iron requirement is 1.8 mg. When the blood does not have enough healthy red blood cells, you develop a condition called anaemia. The different kinds of anaemia are:
Pregnancy-related anaemia: This often occurs because pregnancy and childbirth need high amounts of iron
Vitamin deficiency anaemia: This could be due to the deficiency of certain nutrients such as folic acid or Vitamin B12.
Sickle cell anaemia: While normal red blood cells look like round discs, with sickle cell anaemia, they become like sickle-shaped. These cells then stick together and block blood vessels. The result is that blood is stopped from flowing, causing much pain.
How to use and care for your iron kadhai
Iron utensils need more care and maintenance than plastic or stainless steel ones. But, that is worth the extra iron it adds to your food.
Here are some tips you can follow while handling your iron kadhai:
According to Dwivekar, you can cook all kinds of vegetables in an iron kadhai with the exception being those that are sour like tamarind, tomatoes or kokum. For such vegetables, you can use kansa kadhai which is properly tinned.
To ensure the vegetable you are cooking doesn’t turn black in an iron kadhai, once you turn the gas off, remove the vegetable and transfer to a serving bowl.
Once you are done with cooking, wash and clean the iron vessel, dry it and store it inside. Ensure you keep it away from moisture and air exposure.
To remove rust from cast iron kadhai, you can soak the vessel in equal parts water and vinegar. You can also rub lemon or tamarind on the affected area and let it sit for some time.
According to Dwivekar, use multiple sizes of kadhai. This is because when you are cooking in small quantities, you do not need a large kadhai as it will take longer for the entire kadhai to heat up. Most micronutrients are not stable at high temperatures. Hence, if you want to get the most nutrients out of the food you are eating, you need to first figure out how much you are cooking and then use the correct sized iron vessel.
When you are not using your iron kadhai for a long time, you can apply a little oil and keep it. This is to ensure that iron does not come in contact with air and water and develop rust.
Anaemia is a major life-threatening condition. Around 52 per cent of non-pregnant women in the reproductive age in India are anaemic. By making simple changes such as switching over to iron vessels, we can address this in a healthy, cost-effective manner.