Over 2 billion people, most of them children and women of childbearing age, are iron-deficient. Are you at risk?
Why is iron so important?
As an essential mineral, iron is part of the hemoglobin found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin’s job is to carry oxygen from our lungs to our heart and muscles. With low iron stores, or anemia, the oxygen transportation system breaks down. Anemia impairs mental development and increases the risk of infection and fatigue. Symptoms of iron-deficiency include weakness, loss of appetite and pica (the desire to eat nonfood substances such as ice chips or detergent).
Why are so many people iron-deficient?
For starters, adult women require 2,500-3,000 calories a day to obtain enough iron (15-18 mg) from their food intake alone. That’s more food than most of us like to admit eating. If you’re one of the millions of women on weight-loss diets or just watching your calorie intake, you probably don’t eat enough food to obtain sufficient iron, so you may be iron-depleted.
Children between the ages of six months and two years also have a high risk of anemia. Their intake of milk (not a good source of iron) can be high while the intake of high-iron foods may be low. To combat this, infant cereals are often iron-fortified. Make sure your baby and toddler eat iron-rich foods to ensure optimum mental development.
groups at high risk of anemia are preemies, whose iron stores are lower at birth; teens who are experiencing rapid growth; vegetarian female teens who restrict their diet and may avoid foods high in iron; pregnant women, whose iron needs are higher due to increased blood supply; and women who experience regular heavy menstrual bleeding.
It is rare for men and postmenopausal women to be iron-deficient. In fact, there are some people who absorb too much iron, which appears to be linked to coronary artery disease and possibly some cancers. These groups of people should exercise caution with iron intake by avoiding supplements containing iron and by passing up breakfast cereals with more than 25 percent of the daily value for iron.
Which foods are high in iron?
Iron is primarily found in lean meats such as flank steak and poultry. There are vegetarian sources of iron, but these are not as well absorbed by the body as the meat sources. Many grain products, especially some breakfast cereals, are fortified with additional iron. Cooking food in a cast-iron skillet increases the iron content of that food. Try preparing spaghetti sauce or making soup in a cast-iron pan. The longer the food cooks, the more iron it absorbs from the pan.
To increase absorption of both animal and plant sources of iron, combine them with foods high in vitamin C. Eat a tomato salad (vitamin C) with a hamburger (iron). Drink orange juice (vitamin C) with iron-fortified breakfast cereal. Serve a baked potato (vitamin C) with roast chicken (iron). Try strawberries for dessert (vitamin C) after some lentil soup (iron).
The old adage, “eat liver for iron,” is no believed to hold true. The liver produces cholesterol and, like all organ meats, is itself high in cholesterol. Also, the liver helps remove toxins from the body, and many of those toxins remain in the liver you eat. Instead of choosing liver to satisfy your requirements for iron, choose from the following list of ideas:
|3 ounces lean beef||2.5 mg|
|12 large shrimp||2-3 mg|
|3 ounces turkey breast||1 mg|
|3 ounces dark poultry||2 mg|
|1 egg||1 mg|
|8 ounces prune juice||3 mg|
|1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses||3.5 mg|
|2/3 cup raisins||2 mg|
|1/2 cup cooked lentils||3 mg|
|1/2 cup quinoa||8 mg|
|3 ounces venison||4 mg|
Try to obtain most of your iron from foods rather than supplements. Many people cannot tolerate iron supplements, which often cause gastrointestinal problems. Discuss your eating habits and your iron count with your doctor or healthcare provider. He or she can help you determine if you need an iron supplement.