Quick fixes for iron deficiency
Iron is your body’s gold, and like this precious metal, not everyone has enough to live on. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world, affecting more than 1.2 billion people.
Every cell needs iron to carry oxygen through your blood stream. Too little will leave you weak, tired, and prone to illness. Premenopausal women are most at risk, but vegetarians and people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also face a higher danger.
Know your risk
If you have low iron, you might feel weak and tired much of the time. You could feel too cold or too hot and have trouble fighting off sickness.
You're at risk for low iron if you have
- heavy periods, or if you use an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control.
- certain diseases, surgeries, or drugs can cause you to have a problem absorbing nutrients. This means your body won't get all the iron it should from the food you eat.
- eat a vegetarian diet— which means you don’t eat meat — the best source of dietary iron.
- kidneys problems, which put you more at risk for anemia.
If you think you might be at risk, talk to your doctor about a blood test to be sure.
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Mind your milligrams
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron is 18 milligrams (mg) a day for premenopausal women and 8 mg a day for women past menopause and for men. Vegetarians should aim for about twice these amounts since iron from plant sources is harder for your body to absorb than iron from meat.
Balance the benefits
Don't forget to look at the big picture — some foods are better choices than others. While fortified cereals are usually a good source of iron, you still need to read nutrition labels. One cup of Kellogg's Rice Krispies contains less than 1 mg of iron while a cup of Total has more than 20 mg.
And although meat supplies you with easily absorbed iron, it contains heart-damaging fat and cholesterol. A 3-ounce serving of chicken livers contains 7 mg of iron, but it also serves up a whopping 536 mg of cholesterol. Choose instead a roasted chicken breast without skin. You'll get nearly 2 mg of iron but only 146 mg of cholesterol.
Round out your menu with other heart-friendly sources of iron, like beans and green leafy vegetables.
Sip the right beverage
If you wash down those iron-rich foods with green tea, coffee, or wine, your body won't see as much benefit. Compounds in those drinks — called phenols — interfere with iron absorption. So, drink green tea and coffee between meals instead. And, as always, drink wine sparingly.
If you want to boost your iron absorption, drink orange juice with your green leafies and legumes. Vitamin C helps your body digest iron from plant sources. Another great tip is to cook your food in an iron skillet. Just by doing this, you can triple its iron content. Add a vegetable high in vitamin C, like red bell peppers, to help your body absorb this extra iron.
If you follow a strict vegetarian diet, or suffer from a medical condition that makes you iron deficient, talk with your doctor about iron supplements. But stay away from supplements unless your doctor says otherwise. Too much iron can be toxic.
- FC&A Staff Writer