Have you been feeling overly tired lately, no matter how much sleep you get? Is it a challenge for you to take a short walk without getting winded, even though you are in great physical shape? If so, it may be because you have an iron deficiency.
There are a lot of nutritional deficiencies, but out of all of them, low iron is the most common. In fact, it is estimated that 80 percent of the world’s population are iron-deficient. Moreover, it is suspected that up to 30 percent of people with anemia developed the condition as a result of having low iron levels for a long period of time.
Why is iron important for the body? What are the signs of iron deficiency? How can you boost your iron levels? Keep on reading to find the answers to the answers to these questions.
Why Iron is Important
Though many people don’t realize it, iron is an essential mineral. A vital component of hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cells transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, major function of iron is to transport oxygen to the body’s vital organs. Since hemoglobin makes up about 2/3 of the iron in the body, if you are iron deficient, your body is unable to create enough oxygen-rich red blood cells.
Signs of Iron Deficiency
When a person doesn’t have an adequate level of iron in her body, she develops a condition known as iron deficiency anemia. Women are more likely than men to develop this condition, and the symptoms can be mild an unnoticeable at first, but as the deficiency becomes worse, the symptoms will also become worse.
The most common signs of iron deficiency anemia include:
– Excessive fatigue
– Brain “fog”
– Muscle weakness
– Shortness of breath
– Skin paleness
– Brittle nails
– Increased heart rate
– Cold extremities
– Restless leg syndrome, which causes a tingling, crawling sensation in the legs
– Pica, or odd cravings for dirt or ice
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, there’s a good chance that you have low iron levels, which a simple blood test can confirm.
Treating Iron Deficiency
The amount of iron your body needs depends on a number of factors, including your age, your gender and your overall health. While iron supplements can certainly increase your levels, they can cause adverse side effects; namely, constipation.
There is another way that you can bring your iron levels up without causing adverse effects, and that is by modifying your diet so that it contains foods that are high in iron. Believe it or not, there are several iron-rich foods, and here’s a look at the top 19.
1. Iron-Fortified Cereal
It’s been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially if you eat a bowl of iron-fortified cereal. There are plenty of cereals on the market that have been specially formulated to offer high levels of iron. If you opt for a ready-to-eat cereal that is 100 percent iron-fortified, you will get 12 mg of the nutrient by eating just ½ cup.
There are plenty of ready-to-eat (meaning they don’t have to be cooked to consume) on the market. When you’re shopping, make sure you read the nutrition label to ensure that you are choosing a cereal that offers the highest level of iron possible (ideally, 100 percent.)
2. Instant Oatmeal
Speaking of breakfast foods, instant oatmeal that has been fortified with iron is also another great way to increase your iron levels. Just one packet of iron-fortified instant oatmeal can offer you 13.9 mg of iron.
Just like ready-to-eat cereal, you want to make sure that you read the nutritional label before purchasing oatmeal to ensure the amount of iron that it offers.
3. Beef Liver
A 3.2 ounce serving of beef liver offers 5.2 mg of iron. Pan fry beef liver with some onions and you will have a tasty, iron-rich food that can help you combat iron deficiency anemia.
In addition to being high in iron, beef liver is also the lowest amount of fat of any other form of beef. Plus, it’s low in calories; about 150 calories per serving.
4. Black Beans
Black beans are considered a power food. They contain tons of protein, antioxidants and nutrients, including iron.
In fact, one serving of black beans offers 1.5 times the amount of iron as a three ounce portion of flank steak; 1.8 mg, to be exact.
5. Lean Sirloin
Lean sirloin is another great source of iron for beef lovers.
A single serving (about 3 ounces) offers up 2.9 mg of iron, plus, it also offers several other nutrients, including protein, and vitamins B, B6, C and D.
6. Lean Ground Beef
You can enjoy a burger, meatballs or meatloaf and increase your iron levels.
A 6 ounce serving of lean ground beef offers 6.2 mg of iron; plus, contrary to popular belief, it can also help to reduce cholesterol levels (note: it must be lean ground beef.)
7. Pumpkin Seeds
If you’re looking for a healthy, iron-rich snack, give pumpkin seeds a try. A serving size of about 36 seeds will give you about 1.1 mg of iron.
Another benefit of pumpkin seeds: they can help prevent the formation of kidney stones.
If you enjoy seafood, you will be happy to know that salmon can help to up your iron levels. A 6 ounce serving size can dish up about .7 mg of iron. While this may not be a lot, it can certainly help an iron deficiency.
Plus, salmon offers some other great health benefits; it’s super rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to prevent the development of blood clots and reduce your chances of having a stroke. If possible, choose wild salmon over farmed, as doing so will limit your exposure to PCBs and other toxins.
9. Dark Meat Chicken
If you like to eat chicken legs or thighs, you will be happy to know that these foods can help to up your iron levels.
A 6 ounce serving of dark meat chicken serves up about 2.2 mg of iron, so go ahead and enjoy those chicken legs!
10. Light Meat Chicken
Light meat chicken, such as lean chicken breast, also offers a nice amount of iron. A 6 ounce serving will nourish your body with 2.2 mg of iron.
In order to make it even more nutritious, make sure you remove the skin from your white meat chicken before eating it.