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How to Combat an Iron Deficiency Through your Diet




“What iron-rich foods you eat and when you eat them can also help boost iron levels in your blood and prevent iron-deficiency anemia. People deficient in iron can often experience fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, brittle nails, and/or lightheadedness.”

Iron is an essential mineral that the body needs for growth and development. Iron is used to make the protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and muscles. Iron is also responsible for helping to create some hormones. What iron-rich foods you eat and when you eat them can also help boost iron levels in your blood and prevent iron-deficiency anemia. People deficient in iron can often experience fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, brittle nails, and/or lightheadedness.

In terms of diet, two types of iron can be consumed to increase iron levels overall. The first is the best and most absorbed type, which is called heme iron. Heme iron comes from animal-based foods only. Foods rich in heme iron are ones such as red meat, poultry, and seafood. The second is non-heme iron and is found in non-animal food sources such as tofu, fortified cereals, beans, and spinach. Although non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed as heme iron, it is still important to include in the daily diet. The NIH states that people in the United States usually “obtain adequate amounts of iron from their diets, but infants, young children, teenaged girls, pregnant women, and premenopausal women are at risk of obtaining insufficient amounts”1. The average daily iron intake recommended from foods is 16.3-18.2 mg/day in men and 12.6-13.5 mg/day in women. As examples, a serving of heme iron such as 3 ounces of mussels or beef, provides 3.5 mg of iron and for non-heme iron, one cup of beans or half a cup of tofu can provide 3.5 mg of iron per serving.

There are certain strategies to help the body absorb iron optimally, as not all dietary iron is absorbed equally. The first is to pair iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C. For example, squeezing some lemon on top of spinach, or sautéing some bell peppers to eat alongside baked chicken, will help to boost iron absorption in your body. Next, using a cast-iron skillet to cook your iron-rich foods can help transfer iron into food. This works particularly well when cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics published research to show that cooking in a cast-iron skillet can increase iron content of the food by about 16 percent 2. Next, it is important to separate coffee and non-herbal teas from iron-rich meals. The tannins in tea and coffee have been shown to inhibit iron absorption, so it is best to separate the two. Lastly, the body absorbs iron best when it is consumed in small amounts over the course of the day, so it is a good idea to space out iron-rich meals.

Foods’s rich in iron are always best to incorporate first, however, if supplementing with iron, the highest dose that can safely be taken is 45 mg a day for adults.

Sources

1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/

2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12098-013-1066-z



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