What is an Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency is believed to be the most common of all nutritional deficiencies with some 2 billion people affected worldwide.
Iron is essential to produce hemoglobin which is a protein that aids the body’s red blood cells deliver of oxygen through your body and you will lack the energy you need. If you are deficient in iron, your body will suffer and it may eventually lead to a condition called anemia.
Iron is regarded as a trace mineral with the average person needing just 8 to 18 mgs a day but it is also among the most difficult nutrient to properly absorb and digest. Even a healthy person with a perfectly functioning digestive system will absorb 20% or less of the iron contained in the food they eat.
You can not properly self-diagnose a deficiency in iron but there are certain tell tale warning signs and symptoms that can set the alarm bells ringing. Symptoms are often very mild at first and may not even be noticeable. As time goes by, the symptoms are likely to become more pronounced.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
Symptoms of an iron deficiency and anemia include the following:
- General weakness
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling or soreness in the tongue
- Tingling in your legs
- Brittle nails
- Cold feet and hands
- Elevated heart beat and palpitations
Causes of Iron Deficiency
There are a number of potential of iron deficiency. The following are the most common:
- Inadequate intake of Iron: Consuming too little iron can cause a shortfall in the body. Foods rich in iron include eggs, meat and leafy green vegetables.
- Pregnancy and Blood Loss from Menstruation: These are the most common causes of iron deficiency in young women.
- Disorders that Prevent Iron Absorption: Certain gastric conditions can interfere with the way the body absorbs iron. Certain types of intestinal surgery surgery can also have a negative effect.
- Internal Bleeding: Medical conditions such as gastric ulcers, polyps and colon cancer can cause internal bleeding. It can also be caused by using too many pain killing drugs like aspirin.
How to Fix an Iron Deficiency
If you are worried that you are deficient in iron or would like to ensure that you are less at risk in the future, there are plenty of ways to help your body. This is especially the case for people whose deficiency is caused by an inadequate diet.
1) Eat Plenty of Lean Meat
The iron that you find in poultry, meat and fish is far more easy for your body to absorb than iron found in other dietary sources. If you are concerned that your body is lacking the iron it needs try adding the iron from these sources (also called heme iron) to your diet.
2) Eat More Leafy Greens
Of course, if you are vegetarian or vegan, then you will need to get your iron from plant based food. Certain types of dark, leafy green vegetables are a great source of iron. These include Swiss chard, spinach, kale, beet greens, pak choi and dandelion greens.
While these vegetables are a good source of dietary iron, they are not as bio-available as the iron you can get from meat. For non vegetarians, you should try increasing your iron levels from both plant and animal sources.
3) Steam your Vegetables
By steaming your vegetables instead of boiling them, you increase the bio-availability of their iron content as well as ensuring they retain more of their other important nutrients. Make sure that you do not overcook your veggies or you will lose out on much if their nutrient value.
4) Consume Lots of Vitamin C
Getting plenty of vitamin C or ascorbic acid into your system is important when it comes to remedying an iron deficiency. That is because the vitamin plays a vital role in the way iron is absorbed by the body.
Try eating food that is high in vitamin C as well as foods rich in iron in order to reverse your deficiency. Food that is high in vitamin C includes oranges, red peppers, kale. brussel sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit and guava.
It is always best to get your vitamins from dietary sources but if you find it difficult for some reason, then you may need to take a vitamin C supplement before or just after you have eaten a meal. This will help improve the iron absorption in your intestines.
5) Consume Plenty of Vitamin B
Vitamin B-9 (folic acid) and B-12 (cobalamin) may both play a key role in preventing or reversing an iron deficiency. They help boost the production of red blood cells and combat anemia.
Rich sources of cobalamin include poultry, fish and red meat which are all excellent sources for iron. Folic acid can be found in many types of fruit such as avocado and oranges, leafy green veg land various legumes. These can provide vegetarians with a great source of iron too.
6) Take Blackstrap Molasses
What better way to get more iron into your system than to consume blackstrap molasses. It is one of the oldest natural treatments for a deficiency in iron and it tastes great.
Blackstrap molasses is packed with iron and is also very high in various blood boosting B vitamins including folic acid. You can eat blackstrap molasses raw or add it to your drinks and smoothies for a sweet but very healthy kick.
7) Do not Smoke and Avoid Cigarette Smoke
We all know how bad smoking is for your health but did you know that quitting smoking can radically improve the level of iron in your body?
But it is not only smokers that are affected by cigarette smoke. If you are a non-smoker that lives with a smoker or work and socialize with smokers then try to steer clear of the second hand smoke. Inhaling cigarette smoke whether first or second hand not only affects your iron level but can also have a damaging impact on you health in general.
8) Improve your Digestive Health
As we have already mentioned, iron is extremely difficult for the body to properly absorb. Even people in perfect health with a fully functioning digestive system can only absorb 20% of the iron in their food. This percentage can actually drop dramatically when your digestive system is weak and unbalanced.
9) Avoid Antacids
Minerals like magnesium and calcium actually compete with iron to be absorbed by the body. They are both also found in antacid medication in relatively high concentrations. If you have eaten an iron rich meal, the last thing you want to do is lose out on its benefits by taking an antacid tablet straight after your meal.
10) Avoid Other Iron Inhibitors
- As well as magnesium and calcium, several other minerals can inhibit the absorption of iron. Copper and zinc also compete to be absorbed into the body.
- Tannic acid which is often used in wine and beer manufacturing is another inhibitor.
- Foods that are very high in fiber may cause the iron to pass through your digestive tract without getting absorbed.
- Phytic acid which can be found in certain legumes and veggies binds itself to iron before carrying it out of your digestive tract before it is absorbed.
11) Try Using Cast Iron Cookware
Cooking your food in cast iron pots and pans can also help. Iron from your pan can transfer to your food especially those that are high in acid like tomatoes, dairy products and olive oil. The longer the food is left, the more iron will be transferred.