Studies have shown that if you’re a woman living in North America, chances are you’re not eating enough iron. The essential mineral that keeps our bodies running smoothly”by doing things like carrying oxygen in our blood and helping us properly digest food”has taken the title as the most common nutrient deficiency of the fairer sex. It seems that many of us are unknowingly failing to reach the recommended target of 18 mg a day”the required amount for ladies aged 18 to 50.
It’s a little known (not to mention, surprising) fact that women actually need more of the crucial mineral in their diet than men. Who knew? The main offender: your period. Yes, the monthly pain is not only to blame for PMS, but also a noteworthy loss of iron, especially if your periods veer more on the heavy side. Other not so iron-friendly activities you may be guilty of include crash dieting, overdoing the blood donations or a DIY uneducated switch to vegetarianism.
Avoid health risks
Even though you may see swearing off steak as the right move for your waistline, in the long run you might end up doing more harm than good. If your diet is too anti-iron over a long period of time, you could eventually find yourself anemic. Feeling completely run-down and out of breath, dealing with constant pins and needles in your hands and feet, pounding headaches, insomnia, chest pain, dizziness, brittle nails, hair loss and a weakened immune system are just some of the undesirable effects of iron deficiency anemia.
Fuel up on iron-rich foods
To avoid the risk of harming your body and disrupting your life, a balanced diet with plenty of iron-boosting foods is key. The absolute best source of iron is lean beef, especially of the liver variety. But if you’re a vegetarian, or the idea of liver makes you gag, you can also turn to other iron dietary superheroes like leafy greens (try spinach, kale and broccoli), dried fruit, nuts, legumes and fortified cereals and grains. Other great sources include chicken, fish, shrimp and eggs.
Amp up absorption
You may think that you’re already getting more than enough iron in your diet, but you should also keep in mind that how much you absorb depends on what else you put on your plate. To give your afternoon shrimp cocktail a boost, try adding iron’s soulmate, vitamin C, with a glass of O.J. or a side of steamed broccoli. If you want to really pump up your absorption, try to lay off of the coffee, tea and red wine too close to meal times”all of which include iron-interfering tannins. Calcium, iron’s biggest enemy, should also be avoided when possible. This doesn’t mean that you should completely ditch the milk, or forego your morning caffeine fix. Try to keep a balance, and remember to occasionally give yourself an extra dose of iron by knowing what to pair and what not to pair.
Take note: You need iron in your diet. By making sure you’re getting enough, you can ensure a healthier, more energetic you. If you suspect that you may be clinically iron deficient/anemic, don’t self-diagnose or turn to Dr. Google. Make an appointment with your family doctor to take the proper blood tests to determine if you need supplementation. While too little iron in your diet isn’t good, overdoing it isn’t exactly healthy either.