Iron deficiency is a common issue among women, especially women of childbearing ages. Health issues that can arise from iron deficiency include irregular or rapid heartbeat, pregnancy problems, or, for young children who are extremely iron deficient, slower growth and development.
Iron is required in order to produce red blood cells. When there is a lack of healthy red blood cells (RBC), there can be health issues such as anemia. Anemia is a condition characterized by low hemoglobin or red blood cell in the blood, which causes a lack of oxygen to your body’s cells and compromised organ function. We will discuss anemia further in the next article, but today we will focus on iron deficiency, which many people can have without having anemia.
Symptoms of iron deficiency
Easily out of breath
Irregular body temperature
Weak immune system/more prone to infection
Poor attention and mental focus
Lowered ability and performance in school/work
Lowered endurance with exercise and physical activity
Iron deficiency can be tested and confirmed through blood tests by your doctor. The treatment plan for iron deficiency will differ between individuals because your condition and treatment depends on your age, gender, health and reasons for low iron.
If you are iron deficient because your body is not producing iron, your doctor may suggest you use daily iron supplements to help. If your iron deficiency is primarily due to diet and lifestyle, your doctor can recommend you to focus on regularly including high sources of iron through food. While these are the two most common sources of treatment, it is most important to find the best course of action in partnership with your doctor, who will be able to consider your specific health condition and other factors that may be relevant in your case.
Vitamin C and Iron
For iron to be processed well in the body, we need to have the right amount of vitamin C as well, since vitamin C helps with iron absorption. This is especially important for vegetarians or those of you choosing more plant-based foods as your dietary sources of iron. While iron is present in both plants and meat, the non-heme iron from plants and vegetables are less easily absorbed to your blood than heme iron from meat and animal products. Adding vitamin C helps to boost non-heme iron absorption exponentially.
If you use iron supplements instead of, or as well as, food sources, the vitamin C combination still applies. An easy way to ensure this is to take your iron supplements with a glass of orange or pineapple juice, so you are remembering to get your intake of both nutrients.
3 Dietary Sources of Iron and Vitamin C
Even if you are using iron supplements to boost your iron levels, food is usually a preferable source of nutrients. Here are some great sources of iron you can add to your grocery list and cooking routine.
Spinach salad is an easy way to get your iron since it easily complements both sweet (fruit) and savory (mushrooms, meat) flavors. Red peppers or tomatoes are a bright source of vitamin C that you can pair your spinach dishes with. Spinach soup can include cabbage for a combination vegetable that provides vitamin C too.
Black beans are a great go-to for iron in the warmer months. Tacos or taco salads can be made with healthy and flavorful ingredients. Alternatively, you can make simple Cuban-inspired beans with rice or quinoa as a side dish you can use through the week. Mix tomatoes in for your vitamin C.
Beef or chicken liver are rich sources of heme iron that you can incorporate occasionally. Use 3 ounces of beef/chicken liver that have been presoaked in milk and covered in flour, and pan-fry over medium high heat. Mix with sautéed onions for flavor as well as red bell peppers for vitamin C.
Changing your iron levels is definitely something you can do. You will find your improved energy levels and sharper focus well worth it, not to mention your overall better health!
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