Iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency that occurs when your body lacks an adequate amount of iron.
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, primarily in the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.
Iron is also involved in various metabolic processes, including energy production and immune function.
Key points about iron deficiency causes
Inadequate Dietary Intake:
Not consuming enough iron-rich foods, especially in vegetarian or vegan diets that lack heme iron found in animal products.
Poor Iron Absorption:
Some individuals, such as those with celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disorders, may have difficulty absorbing iron.
Increased Iron Needs:
Certain groups, such as pregnant women and athletes, may require more iron due to increased blood volume and muscle demands.
Chronic blood loss, either from gastrointestinal bleeding, heavy menstrual periods, or injury, can lead to iron deficiency.
The symptoms of iron deficiency can vary in severity and may include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
- Rapid heartbeat
- Cognitive difficulties
Untreated iron deficiency can lead to more severe conditions, including iron-deficiency anemia.
Anemia is a condition in which the body lacks a sufficient number of healthy red blood cells, causing a decrease in oxygen delivery to tissues and organs. This can result in fatigue, weakness, and a range of other health problems.
A healthcare provider can diagnose iron deficiency through blood tests, typically measuring serum ferritin (a protein that stores iron) levels, hemoglobin levels, and other markers of iron status. These tests help determine the severity of the deficiency.
Treatment and Prevention:
Treatment for iron deficiency typically involves addressing the underlying cause and increasing iron intake.
This may include dietary changes, iron supplements, or treatment for any underlying medical conditions.
Preventing iron deficiency involves maintaining a balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods, such as lean meats, beans, lentils, fortified cereals, spinach, and whole grains. Combining iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C can enhance iron absorption.
For individuals at risk, iron supplements may be recommended, but it’s essential to use them under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Increase your intake of iron-rich foods, such as legumes (lentils, beans), tofu, quinoa, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, spinach, and other leafy greens.
Vitamin C-Rich Foods:
Consume foods high in vitamin C (e.g., citrus fruits, strawberries, capsicums) with iron-rich meals to enhance iron absorption.
Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-heme iron, which is the type of iron found in plant-based foods. Adding vitamin C-rich foods to your meals can help improve your body’s ability to absorb iron from these sources.
Avoid Iron Blockers:
Refrain from consuming substances that inhibit iron absorption, like tea, coffee, and calcium-rich foods, during or immediately after iron-rich meals.
Cook in Cast-Iron Cookware:
Cooking in cast-iron pots and pans can increase the iron content of your meals, especially when preparing acidic dishes.
- Nettle: Nettle leaf is a traditional herbal remedy believed to increase iron absorption and support iron levels. You can make nettle tea or use nettle supplements.
- Blackstrap Molasses: Blackstrap molasses is a sweet syrup derived from sugar cane. It’s a concentrated source of iron and other minerals. You can consume it directly, use it as a sweetener in recipes, or mix it with warm water.
Various green leafy vegetables offer health benefits and contain some iron, although the iron content in most of these vegetables is not as high as in certain other foods.
Nonetheless, incorporating a variety of green leafy vegetables into your diet can contribute to overall iron intake.
It’s important to keep in mind that while these green leafy vegetables do contain iron, the iron they provide is non-heme iron, which is less readily absorbed than heme iron from animal sources.
To enhance iron absorption from plant-based sources, consider pairing these vegetables with vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, or bell peppers, and avoid substances like tea and coffee during or immediately after meals to prevent inhibition of iron absorption.
Green leafy vegetables
- Collard Greens: Collard greens provide around 0.4 mg of iron. They are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin K, and calcium.
- Mustard Greens: Mustard greens contain approximately 0.6 mg of iron. They are also rich in vitamin K and vitamin C.
- Beet Greens: Beet greens offer about 2.7 mg of iron. They are not only a source of iron but also a good source of fiber and other nutrients.
- Turnip Greens: Turnip greens provide roughly 0.9 mg of iron. They are a good source of vitamins A, C, and K.
- Dandelion Greens: Dandelion greens contain about 2.7 mg of iron and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K and calcium.
The best Iron-rich and Protein sources:
Lentils are a legume that provides a significant amount of iron. They contain around 3.3 mg of iron per 100 grams when cooked. Lentils are also a good source of protein and dietary fibre.
Kidney beans are another legume that offers a reasonable iron content, with approximately 2.9 mg of iron per 100 grams when cooked. They are versatile and can be used in various dishes.
Tofu, a soy-based product, contains about 5.4 mg of iron per 100 grams when cooked. It’s not only a good source of iron but also a complete protein.