Ironing Out Iron: Your Question Answered
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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).