Healing Anemia: How To Fight Iron Deficiency Naturally
Along with getting enough quality sleep, diet plays a crucial role in how energetic we feel throughout the day – it’s the fuel we run on. But even for those of us who are trying hard to eat healthy, there’s one essential mineral that is the most problematic, especially for women and children: iron. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency globally. For many of us, it’s the likely culprit behind constant tiredness and the need to rely on gallons of coffee to get through the day. Fortunately, this problem can be solved, with a few nutrition hacks and persistence. So let’s talk iron!
How Iron is Vital to Your Wellbeing
Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, which enables red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. If there’s not enough hemoglobin in the system, the cells, tissues, and muscles aren’t getting all the oxygen they need to function at their best. This leads to anemia, a condition which notes the lack of healthy red blood cells. Although there are different types, the most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. In this case, chronic fatigue and brain fog are the most common symptoms, as the body struggles to deliver enough oxygen to your brain and the rest of the system.
Of course, that’s not the only way iron levels affect your well being – after all, the body is a complex whole where all the systems are deeply intertwined. This essential mineral is also involved in many enzyme reactions which ensure proper digestion and nutrient absorption. By maintaining a healthy metabolism, these enzyme reactions ultimately play a key role in maintaining hormonal balance and promoting skin, hair, nail, heart, and brain health. That’s why iron deficiency can also lead to hair loss, brittle fingernails, abnormal heartbeat, and pale or yellowing skin, along with all the symptoms of chronic fatigue. But don’t dwell on the symptoms and wait for them to appear – it’s best to get your blood checked regularly. That way you can monitor your iron levels and know when it’s time to up your intake so they never get dangerously low.
Getting more Iron in Your Diet
Different age groups need different amounts of iron, with the general recommendation being in the range of 7-18mg daily. For pregnant women, this number jumps to 27mg. Menstruating women need 18mg of iron daily, whereas men in the same range need only 8mg. This is important to keep in mind among families and straight couples, because it shows that women need somewhat different daily meals, containing an additional iron boost.
There are two types of iron:
- Heme iron, which is found only in animal foods. The body absorbs heme-iron very well.
- Non-heme iron, found in plant and animal foods as well. It’s more common, but unfortunately, it is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme-iron.
This means that vegans and vegetarians are especially at risk of low iron levels. The solution here is to get plenty of non-heme iron from the best sources available and to take measures to help increase its absorption.
The best sources of heme iron
- Red meat
- Organ meat (such as liver)
- Fish – tuna, salmon, halibut, perch
- Shellfish – oysters, mussels, clams
The best sources of non-heme iron
- Leafy green vegetables, especially spinach and kale
- Beans and legumes – chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, kidney beans
- Dried fruits – raisins, cranberries, apricots
- Seeds – especially pumpkin seeds
- Iron-fortified food
How to Enhance Iron Absorption
The trick is to eat the right food with your iron source.
Research shows that vitamin C enhances iron absorption and especially helps to make non-heme iron more available in your body. That’s why dark leafy greens are one of the best sources of iron available – they’re also high in vitamin C. Vitamin A and beta-carotene also help increase iron absorption. Some great food sources to pair with your iron-rich meals include carrots, squash, apricots, peaches, and sweet potatoes.
Calcium and polyphenols, on the other hand, hinder iron absorption. But this can be avoided with good timing. Polyphenols are present in high amounts in tea and coffee, so it’s necessary to leave a couple of hours between consuming those and an iron-rich meal. As for calcium-rich foods, you need those in your diet – just don’t eat them immediately with your main source of iron.
If you’re feeling chronically exhausted and low on energy, low iron levels could be the cause. You don’t have to be technically deficient in iron – borderline deficiency or a slump in your iron intake can also hamper your quality of life. A simple blood test will help you determine if this is the culprit, and if that is the case, get ready for a little dietary change. It takes persistence, but a healthy diet, where iron sources are paired with vitamin C and A sources, is the best answer.
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