Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency worldwide. Iron is needed to deliver oxygen throughout your body. If your blood is iron deficient, then you aren’t creating enough red blood cells to transport oxygen and your body will be fatigued. Exhaustion, in turn, will affect your brain function and your immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
Iron deficiency is a common problem for females during their childbearing years, in fact, a 2011 Canadian study showed 9% of women of this group were experiencing iron-deficiency anemia. Also at risk are: pregnant women who need twice as much iron, young children because they require extra iron for growth and development, underweight teens, women who experience heavy periods, patients on kidney dialysis and people who work-out a lot.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include lethargy, irritability, lack of appetite, difficulty concentrating, being easily out of breath, hair loss, and weakened immune systems leading to easily catching colds and getting sick.
Vegetarians and vegans need higher than average daily iron intake, because there are two differing types of iron – heme and non-heme (illustrated below). Heme iron is primarily animal based and is more easily digestible by the body than non-heme iron.
To help the body increase absorption of non-heme iron, it is a good idea to get ample Vitamin C. Many fruits and veggies besides oranges are high in Vitamin C including strawberries, pineapples, guava, papaya, kiwi, bell peppers, broccoli and brussels sprouts. Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurts, and kimchi contain lactic acid and will enhance non-heme iron absorption. Another good tip is to cook with cast iron skillets – they will actually leach iron into your food!
At the same time, it is best to avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, black and green teas, pop, beer and wine because these bevvies will decrease your body’s ability to absorb iron.
If you are feeling lethargic and are experiencing other symptoms, simple blood tests from you doctor will show whether you’re iron levels are lacking. Adding iron to your diet with meal planning is helpful in maintaining iron levels, but sometimes supplements will be required to get your iron levels back on track.