An estimated 35 percent of all Americans do not get enough daily iron in their diet. If you are tired and sluggish during the day, you could be one of them. The main purpose of iron is to help transport oxygen to the muscles and other organs. Oxygen intake will slow down when the body’s iron levels becomes too low. This can cause fatigue, weakness and even headaches. When an iron deficiency becomes significant an individual could develop a condition called anemia.
There are many types of anemia. Some are temporary and some can last a life time. Not getting treatment for anemia can damage the body and may even lead to death. Anemia can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, leg cramps and pale skin. Some forms of iron anemia can cause the nails to curve, cause cracks in the corners of the mouth and a condition called pica. Pica is described as a “hunger” for unusual materials like paper or even dirt.
Women are more susceptible to iron deficiencies due to the loss of red blood cells during menstruation. Pregnant women also need more iron in their diet. Be aware though, most doctors do not recommend eating liver during pregnancy because it is also high in vitamin A which can be dangerous for the unborn baby. The body can lose iron through perspiration so athletes should get their daily requirements of iron to replenish what may be lost during physical activities. Adolescent children need their iron especially during stages of rapid growth.
Iron is plentiful in a variety of foods. Most know that dark-leafy greens are excellent sources of iron. Iron can also be found in beans, whole grains, and eggs. The best sources of iron are found in fish, poultry and red meat. Other foods that are exceptional iron sources include clams, liver (except during pregnancy), oysters, mussels, shrimp, sardines, turkey, blackstrap molasses, and pumpkin seeds.
The body can have difficulty absorbing the iron that is found in plant-derived foods such as spinach. Eating foods that contain vitamin C along with the iron-rich vegetables will help the absorption process in these types of foods. Coffee and tea (especially black tea) are contributing factors for the body not absorbing iron. Black tea has even been recommended to individuals who need to block iron absorption due to too much iron in their body.
An individual who eats a well-balanced diet shouldn’t need iron supplements. If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with iron deficiency, see your physician before taking a supplement. Too much iron can be as detrimental to your health as not having enough. The recommended daily allowance for men and women ranges from 10 to 18 mg. depending upon your age, gender, and daily activities. The recommendation for pregnant women is 30 mg.
Pump the iron every day – not just in the gym but in your diet. You may find that just a few changes can make a significant difference in your energy levels as well as your overall well-being.