You always hear about it, but can you be sure?
Iron is crucial in your diet because it’s needed to help make proteins that carry oxygen throughout your entire body. While many people get plenty of dietary iron, certain population groups have higher risks for iron deficiency — which can lead to unpleasant side effects and health problems.
Below are some iron-rich foods and supplements and how to tell if you are, indeed, iron-deficient. You should visit your doctor first to confirm it, but it doesn’t hurt to take some necessary precautions.
If your diet lacks iron-rich foods, you may be at risk for iron deficiency. Foods high in iron include meats, poultry, seafood, legumes — like lentils and white beans — spinach, dark chocolate, tofu, and iron-fortified cereals. Iron in meat is better absorbed by your body than iron from plant-based foods, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Iron in Supplements
If you’re taking a multivitamin supplement, you may be getting iron that way in addition to the iron you eat from foods. However, not all multivitamin supplements contain iron. Check the supplement facts label to determine how much iron, if any, is in your multivitamin.
How Much is Enough?
The amount of dietary iron you should ingest daily depends on your age and gender. Men of all ages and women over age 50 need 8 milligrams of iron per day, while women of childbearing age require 18 milligrams daily, notes the Institute of Medicine. Pregnant women need 27 milligrams of iron each day.
Symptoms of Deficiency
If you’re not getting enough iron in your diet and have iron-deficiency anemia, you will likely feel sluggish, tired, and have decreased exercise performance. You may also have a weakened immune system, cognitive impairments, brittle nails, and difficulty regulating your body’s temperature.
Groups at Risk
Some population groups have a greater risk for iron deficiency than others. For example, pregnant women are at risk because they have a higher daily iron requirement. People who don’t eat meat may also be at risk. Children, especially those who are picky eaters, might not be getting enough dietary iron unless they take an iron-containing multivitamin supplement. The Office of Dietary Supplements reports that frequent blood donors — and people with cancer, heart failure, and gastrointestinal disorders are at risk for iron deficiency.
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