Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the United States. It is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body. So the phrase “pumping iron” is accurate, but you don’t need to hit the gym to do it, you just need to breathe!
When your body does not absorb enough iron, you can develop iron deficiency anemia. This means that not enough red blood cells with adequate hemoglobin can be made. Therefore, oxygen and carbon dioxide cannot be transported efficiently. This can cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness, pale skin and fingernails, headache, and an inflamed tongue.
This mineral deficiency is most commonly found in the following populations:
- Young children: As babies grow rapidly, their iron needs increase and must be met by breast milk and infant formula
- Adolescent girls: This is another time of rapid growth that increases iron needs
- Women of childbearing age: This is because of our little friend that visits every month. Women lose iron as a result of their menstrual cycles, and this puts them at constant risk of deficiency
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding: Because they are eating and metabolizing for two (or more!), iron needs increase in this stage of life
This “common” deficiency shouldn’t be so common, though, because iron is easy to get, and yummy! The best sources of iron are from animal sources because our bodies absorb 2-3 times more of it than iron from plant sources. This includes lean beef, turkey, chicken, lean pork, and fish. If you stay away from animals, though, have no fear! You can still get adequate amounts of non-heme iron, which is a fancy word for iron from plant sources. These foods are great sources of non-heme iron:
- Beans, including pinto, kidney, soybeans and lentils
- Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Enriched rice
- Whole-grain and enriched breads
Because our bodies naturally absorb more iron from animal sources, you can increase absorption from plant sources by eating more vitamin C (see last weeks post!).
Overall, the most important thing is eating a variety of foods to ensure you get adequate amounts of all vitamins and minerals, not just iron. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and the benefits could go a long way!
By Katy Davis