Are you often tired or lacking energy? Do you have cold hands or frequent headaches? Did you know these symptoms may be the result of something easy to fix? You may just be lacking iron in your diet.
Iron – it’s one of those minerals that has lots of health benefits, but not everyone gets enough in their diet. Eating enough iron is important for giving your body energy; without it, you may feel a lack of energy or fatigue since your body needs iron to produce red blood cells that transport oxygen around your body (e.g. to your brain, muscles, etc…). You may also feel a shortness of breath or dizziness; have coldness in your hands and feet; experience headaches, chest pain, or weakness; and appear pale. Since oxygen in the brain is important for it to work properly, iron deficiency may cause poor memory, irritability, and inability to focus. Young children need iron to learn and develop proper social behavior. Pregnant women need to eat enough iron-rich food to meet the needs of their growing fetus! Restless leg syndrome can also result from low iron levels (in addition to B vitamins such as folate).
While anyone can suffer from anemia or a lack of iron in their diet, those at greatest risk include:
- People with door diets
- Vegetarians who don’t replace meat with iron-rich foods
- Women with heavy menstrual bleeding
- Pregnant women
- Premenopausal women
- Children born prematurely or those who experience a growth spurt
- Individuals who donate blood regularly
- Individuals with compromised immune systems (including cancer patients, people with heart conditions or with gastrointestinal disorders)
So, how can you prevent iron deficiency? The easiest method is to ensure you are eating enough iron. Supplementation is also possible (consult your doctor first and get your iron level tested through a simple blood test). Vegetarians need to eat almost twice as much iron as meat-eaters since the iron in meat (heme iron) is more available to the body than iron in plant-based foods (non-heme iron). Luckily, there are lots of foods that are iron-rich. Here are some of our recommendations:
- Grass-fed beef
- Shellfish (shrimp, clams, scallops, oysters)
- Fish (tuna, sardines, haddock, mackerel)
- Eggs (except vegans)
- Dark chocolate
- Beans (black, black-eyed, kidney, garbanzo, or white)
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, pine nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, hemp, flaxseeds)
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, beet greens, dandelion greens, chard, collards)
- Sweet potatoes
- String beans
- Dried fruit (dates, figs, raisins, apricots, peaches, prunes)
- Prune juice
- Tomato paste
- Oyster mushrooms
- Whole grains
It’s also important to take a few additional steps to ensuring that iron is being absorbed:
To ensure the iron is being absorbed, eat it with foods that are high in vitamin C (e.g. tomatoes; citrus fruits; red, yellow and orange peppers). These foods can help with the absorption of non-heme iron (found in plant-based foods). Avoid coffee and tea with iron-rich meals as they can reduce iron absorption. Cook with a cast iron pan, which increases the iron available by two or three times. Eat plant foods like legumes and quinoa together to increase absorption.
Here are some quick and easy ideas to get your iron in:
- Make a trail mix with mixed nuts and dried fruit. Throw in a few dark chocolate chunks or chips.
- Enjoy a leafy green salad, top with some nuts and seeds, and add some orange slices and pomegranate seeds. Add some slices of avocado for those healthy (omega-3) fats.
- Saute some red, orange, and yellow peppers and onions; add some black beans; and serve over quinoa. Top with avocado of course!
- Make a soup – throw in a bunch of chopped veggies, tomatoes, tomato paste, and beans (and yep, I topped this with avocado too).
What are some of your favorite iron-rich (+ vitamin C) recipes?