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  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Fatique? Check your iron levels

Low iron levels are one of the most common nutritional deficiencies - about 10 % of women are iron deficient, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reasons could be because:

  • Lack of iron in your diet

  • Heavy menstrual periods

  • Pregnancy

  • Breastfeeding

Why do we need sufficient iron?

Iron is an important mineral that helps your body produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body's tissues. Without healthy red blood cells, your body can't get enough oxygen. If you are not getting sufficient oxygen in the body, you are going to become fatigued.

Low levels of iron can cause a decrease in the number of red blood cells. This can result in iron deficiency anemia.

Recommendations for daily iron intake:

  • Women aged 19 to 50 need 18 mg of iron per day

  • Pregnant women need 27 mg of iron per day

  • Women over the age of 50 need 8 mg of iron per day

  • Males over the age of 19 need 8 mg of iron per day

How do you know if you are iron deficient?

Signs of low iron are often fatique, tiredness and weakness.

Other symptoms could be:

  • Short of breath

  • Irritability

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Brittle nails

  • Hair loss

  • Sores at the corner of the mouth

  • Pale complexion

  • A sore tongue

Where do we get iron from?

There are 2 types of iron that are found in food: iron from animals & seafood and iron from plant sources. Iron from animal & seafood sources is better absorbed by the body than iron from plant sources.

Iron from animal & seafood sources

  • Chicken liver, 3 oz (85 g)/ 10 mg

  • Beef liver, 3 oz (85 g)/ 5.5 mg

  • Oysters, 3 oz (85 g)/ 8 mg

  • Beef, 3 oz (85 g)/ 2 to 3 mg

  • Shrimp, 3 oz (85 g)/ 2.8 mg

  • Turkey, 3 oz (85 g)/ 2 mg

  • Chicken, 3 oz (85 g) / 1 mg

  • Fish (tuna, halibut), 3 oz (85 g)/ 1 mg

  • Pork, 3 oz (85 g)/ 0.9 mg

Iron from plant sources

  • Oats, 100 g / 4.7 mg

  • Tofu, ½ cup / 3.4 mg

  • Kidney beans, ½ cup / 2.6 mg

  • Baked potato with skin / 2.7 mg

  • Asparagus, ½ cup / 2.2 mg

  • Amaranth 100 g / 2 mg

  • Avocado / 2 mg

  • Dried peaches, ½ cup / 1.6 mg

  • Raisins, ½ cup / 1.5 mg

  • Soy milk, 1 cup / 1.5 mg

  • Quinoa, 100 g / 1.4 mg

  • Whole-wheat bread, 1 slice / 1.2 mg

  • Spinach, 1 cup / 0.8 mg

  • Broccoli, ½ cup / 0.6 mg

Iron absorption

Certain foods can decrease the body's absorption of iron. Try to avoid these foods and beverages while eating meals with iron-containing foods:

  • Coffee

  • Tea

  • Fiber

  • Soy

Foods containing vitamin C can help increase the amount of iron your body absorbs from iron sources. Eat foods with vitamin C along with iron-containing foods to increase your iron absorption. Foods that are high in vitamin C include many fruits and vegetables. Some good sources are:

  • Fresh orange juice

  • Oranges

  • Strawberries

  • Mangoes

  • Grapefruit

  • Red bell peppers

  • Green bell peppers

  • Broccoli

  • Potatoes with skin

  • Tomato juice

Should you take iron supplements?

If you suspect you are low in iron, don't just go and buy an iron supplement. First of all, see your doctor and get a blood test to determine your iron levels. Your doctor can then advise you if you need a supplement and which type to use. Be aware that many of the supermarket supplements are not that good for you. Make sure you do your research into the brands before choosing one. Or better yet, try increasing your iron levels with food rather than supplements.


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