Did you know that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States? Populations that are at higher risk for developing iron deficiency anemia include, but are not limited to, women who are pregnant, breastfeeding women, and women of childbearing age. There are many health concerns that can arise from having an iron deficiency. We surely do not want you to experience them.

What is Iron?

Iron is an essential mineral that your body needs to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. So basically, iron helps to carry oxygen throughout your body.

What happens if you have an iron deficiency?

When your body does not absorb enough iron, it becomes iron deficient. Common symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, pale skin and pale fingernails. If weakness occurs then it is possible the iron deficiency has progressed to iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is a condition where the body’s iron stores are so low that not enough normal red blood cells can be made to carry oxygen efficiently.

Women can have low iron levels for various reasons

Bleeding can cause you to lose more blood cells and iron than your body can replace. Women may have low iron levels from bleeding caused by digestive system problems, long-term use of aspirin, heavier or longer than normal menstrual periods, uterine fibroids that can cause heavy bleeding. Also, pregnant women need more iron than normal to support their developing baby. Not eating enough food that contains iron can also put you at higher risk of being deficient and lastly, certain health conditions like crohn’s disease can make it harder for your body to absorb iron.

What foods can iron be found in?

The body absorbs two to three times more iron from animal sources than from plants. Some of the best dietary sources of iron are lean beef, chicken, fish, lean pork, and turkey. Some of the best plant sources of iron are fortified breakfast cereals, whole-grain and enriched breads, dark leafy greens (ex: spinach and kale), and beans (ex: kidney, soybeans, and lentils).

How to Prevent Iron Deficiency

Do your best to eat a balanced and healthy diet that includes great sources of iron to prevent any deficiencies. Try and combine vegetarian sources of iron with Vitamin C in each meal to help with iron absorption.

Tips for better absorption of plant based iron sources

Consume plant based iron sources with foods that are high in vitamin C. Among these foods are citrus fruits, asparagus, kale, broccoli, papaya, dried cranberries, kiwi, melons and strawberries.

How much iron to consume daily?

Iron is measured in milligrams (mg). The general recommendations for healthy women are. For individualized recommendations, please consult with your doctor or dietitian:
• Women (ages 19-50 years): 18 mg per day
• Women (ages 19-50 years): 27 mg if pregnant & 9 mg if breastfeeding.
• Older women (ages 51+ years): 8 mg per day

For specific iron recommendations talk to your primary care physician and consult with a dietitian. They will assess your iron status and determine the exact form of treatment, which may include changes in diet or taking supplements.