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Ironing Out Iron: Your Question Answered

Question: I’ve been struggling lately with very low iron levels. Anything you can suggest to help with that? I’ve been eating lots of spinach and red meat!
~Melissa Fenton from NY, NY

Answer: You’re not alone–so many people, including young children, teen girls, and women during their childbearing years have increased iron needs and fail to consume enough iron-rich foods to meet those needs. It’s important to get enough iron to prevent what’s called microcytic hypochromic anemia (symptoms may include fatigue, weakness, increased sensitivity to cold temps, and behavioral changes). Although some may need iron supplements to get enough (but not too much), it’s better to first look to iron-rich foods to fill gaps in your diet and help your body get just the right amount. Always be sure to consult with a physician before taking iron supplements, or any supplements for that matter. In many cases, too much of a good thing can lead to more problems than you’re trying to solve in the first place!

Fortunately, iron is present in both animal and plant foods. But heme iron- the type of iron found in animal foods- is much better absorbed than non-heme iron- the iron found in many plant foods. To maximize iron absorption, it’s a good idea to consume small amounts of meat, fish, or poultry alongside iron-rich plant foods; these include rice, soybeans, white and kidney beans, lentils, spinach, lima beans, potatoes, and mushrooms as well as fortified foods including ready-to-eat cereals and instant oats. Also, consuming vitamin C-rich foods and beverages with iron-rich foods can enhance iron absorption. Try oranges, sweet peppers, guava, papaya, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and juices (orange, grapefruit, and cranberry).

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized and award-winning health and nutrition expert, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books. An avid walker, she loves motivating others to #moveitorloseit. A book lover, she recently earned a certificate in children’s literature from Stony Brook Southampton and is currently working on several young adult novels. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.