This sad but true fact is made even more upsetting by the fact that it is mostly preventable. If you have struggled with low iron and are ready to remedy the situation once and for all, this article is for you. Expect cheesy jokes. Let’s get down to iron tacks! (you were warned about the jokes.). Women are especially prone to iron deficiency due to monthly menstrual blood loss. Regular recommended intake is 18mg per day. Pregnant women need 27 mg per day.
Step 1. Clean up your digestion. Iron is notoriously difficult to assimilate so an intact digestive tract is key. Eliminate items that cause inflammation like preservatives, chemicals, alcohol, caffeine etc. and increase whole foods. The increased water, fiber and nutrient content of your diet doing this step alone will boost your energy levels.
Step 2. Find out your ferritin level. This is the blood measure of iron stores. It takes three months to replenish iron stores so find out where you are starting from and then you can accurately measure the results of your actions.
Step 3. Increase iron containing foods. Now, vegetarians may get upset with me, however, from personal experience and from research, the vegetarian sources of iron (non-heme) are less readily absorbed than the animal or heme sources. I’m not telling you to become a carnivore, just adjust your intake of all sources accordingly.
Here’s a chart from the Dieticians of Canada and the USDA:
|Chicken liver, pan-fried, 3 ounces||11.0||61|
|Oysters, canned, 3 ounces||5.7||32|
|Beef liver, pan-fried, 3 ounces||5.2||29|
|Beef, chuck, blade roast, lean only, braised, 3 ounces||3.1||17|
|Turkey, dark meat, roasted, 3 ounces||2.0||11|
|Beef, ground, 85% lean, patty, broiled, 3 ounces||2.2||12|
|Beef, top sirloin, steak, lean only, broiled, 3 ounces||1.6||9|
|Tuna, light, canned in water, 3 ounces||1.3||7|
|Turkey, light meat, roasted, 3 ounces||1.1||6|
|Chicken, dark meat, meat only, roasted, 3 ounces||1.1||6|
|Chicken, light meat, meat only, roasted, 3 ounces||0.9||5|
|Tuna, fresh, yellowfin, cooked, dry heat, 3 ounces||0.8||4|
|Crab, Alaskan king, cooked, moist heat, 3 ounces||0.7||4|
|Pork, loin chop, broiled, 3 ounces||0.7||4|
|Shrimp, mixed species, cooked, moist heat, 4 large||0.3||2|
|Halibut, cooked, dry heat, 3 ounces||0.2||1|
and a chart for non-heme Iron sources
|Ready-to-eat cereal, 100% iron fortified, ¾ cup||18.0||100|
|Oatmeal, instant, fortified, prepared with water, 1 packet||11.0||61|
|Soybeans, mature, boiled, 1 cup||8.8||48|
|Lentils, boiled, 1 cup||6.6||37|
|Beans, kidney, mature, boiled, 1 cup||5.2||29|
|Beans, lima, large, mature, boiled, 1 cup||4.5||25|
|Ready-to-eat cereal, 25% iron fortified, ¾ cup||4.5||25|
|Blackeye peas, (cowpeas), mature, boiled, 1 cup||4.3||24|
|Beans, navy, mature, boiled, 1 cup||4.3||24|
Step 4. To increase absorption and utilization: Increase vitamin C and vitamin B complex intake, eat heme and non-heme iron sources together. If taking iron supplements take them separately from other vitamins and minerals and separately from a meal as some nutrients such as calcium, zinc and manganese will interfere with iron absorption. Eat a variety of iron sources.
Step 6: Have at least 2 servings of a palm sized amount of lean protein per day. You may need more depending on your health, activity and stress levels. Iron needs protein to be transported around the body so vegetarians with low protein tend to have low iron levels. Eat a variety of sources to keep it interesting.
Step 6. Commit to these changes for at least 3 months to see results.