Am I getting enough? Fatigue, cold hands, cracked lips, a swollen tongue, weak & brittle nails, a pale appearance… If you are noticing any combination of these symptoms on a regular basis, then there’s a possibility that you’re one of the near 30% of people who are deficient in iron. Put simply, this means that your diet isn’t providing your body with enough of one of the most important nutrients it most needs.
Why Does it Matter? Although very common, being deficient in iron is not something that should be taken lightly. Iron is an essential nutrient for your body, which you get from your food. In fact, your body can’t produce any iron itself so it relies solely on your diet as it’s one source. Iron is needed for a number of highly complex processes that are taking place continuously all the time and that are essential for human life, including the transportation of oxygen around your body! Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around the body and iron is a key component of these. Iron is also vital to keeping your energy levels up and preventing fatigue. One of its jobs within the body is to help convert blood sugar into energy. This allows your muscles to work to their maximum whenever you exercise. When deficient in iron, you’re far more prone to getting tired easily and unable to perform to your full potential. Even your immune system is dependent on iron, using the nutrient to help it perform it’s daily functions. If your iron levels are low your immune system won’t be working as well as it could to defend your body from illness and infection and so your risk of ill health is greatly increased.
How Do I Eat More? Recognizing the importance of iron is great, but now let’s take some action. There are three main food groups that are the best sources of iron. By changing your diet to include more foods from these groups we can ensure our bodies are functioning at their very best.
1. Lean Red Meat Red meat is perhaps most well-known for its iron content, although it is also known for being relatively high in fat. To balance out your nutrition, lean red meats are the best choice. Trimming off the fat also doesn’t get rid of iron so you’re free to choose the healthiest cuts you can find. The iron in red meat is far more easily absorbed by the body than plant based iron sources.
2. Grains Most foods in this category are good sources of iron, although they are not as easy for the body to absorb as meats. This means that while they are a great source, you should not rely on grains for your iron intake. The best foods from this group are breads and dry cereals as they often come fortified with iron which is a great way to pack more of this vital nutrient into your diet.
3. Beans and Vegetables Natural proteins like soybeans, lentils, chickpeas and butterbeans are great sources of iron and are ideal for vegetarians looking to boost their iron intake, as beans often replace meats in veggie dishes. Anyone who grew up watching ‘Popeye’ will also be aware of the iron-rich powers of spinach, and this and other leafy greens are the best vegetables to eat. Dried fruits are also packed full of iron, as are nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds and flaxseed.