Are you feeling tired, rundown and sluggish? Do you have a rapid or irregular heartbeat, dizziness or cold hands and feet? If so, you might just be showing symptoms of iron deficiency. Regain your energy by finding out how to identify the symptoms of iron deficiency and ways to get and absorb more iron from your diet.

What is Iron and What are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency?

Iron is a mineral that is essential to our body’s functioning . Our body needs iron to produce red blood cells. It is a part or our hemoglobin, the component of our red blood cells which transports oxygen to our tissues. Iron is also a component of myoglobin which transports oxygen to our muscles. In addition, iron also plays key roles in many other processes such as our metabolism, our production of enzymes and our immune functioning. Iron deficiency anemia results when there is not enough iron in the red blood cells. This is a common problem that can be caused by many factors, but is often associated with a diet that is low in iron or with poor absorption of iron by the body.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency:

There are many symptoms of iron deficiency. The most common symptoms are fatigue and extreme weakness experienced doing even normal, everyday activities. Other symptoms include the following:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • cold hands and feet
  • pale skin
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • breathlessness
  • brittle hair and nails
  • craving for nonfood items such as dirt or ice

Ways to Get More Iron

Eat Foods Rich in Iron

In addition to meat, poultry and fish, try to add these iron-rich plant-based foods into your daily meals:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Leafy Greens
  • Molasses
  • Pumpkin Seeds

Improve your Iron Absorption

If you have iron deficiency anemia, you need to look not only at the foods you are consuming, but also at whether or not your body is actually absorbing all of the iron from those foods. Absorption is affected by the type of iron you consume and by other factors that can inhibit or promote absorption.

There are two types of iron, heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is iron found in animal proteins like meat, poultry and fish. Non-heme iron is iron found in plants like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains. Heme iron is absorbed much more readily by the body than non-heme iron.

Avoid Combining Non-Heme Iron Sources with Foods that Inhibit Non-Heme Iron Absorption

Many foods when eaten with non-heme (plant-based) iron actually prevent your body from absorbing some of that iron. If you have anemia, you should avoid eating these foods within 3 hours before or after you eat your non-heme iron-rich foods or iron supplements:

  • Calcium – Calcium from supplements or dairy compete with iron for absorption.
  • Phytates – Phytates are found in beans, legumes, wheat bran, almonds, sesame seeds and walnuts. This may seem counter-intuitive because many of these foods are high in non-heme iron. However, you can lessen the chance that the phytates will affect iron absorption by soaking, sprouting or cooking these foods.
  • Polyphenols – The polyphenols in cocoa, tea and coffee inhibit iron absorption. Other foods containing polyphenols include apples, peppermint, walnuts, raspberries and blackberries.
  • Oxalates – Oxalates include foods such as spinach, kale, beets, wheat bran, strawberries, nuts, oregano, basil, parsley, chocolate and rhubarb.
  • Eggs – Eggs, especially egg yolks, inhibit absorption of iron.
Ways to Enhance Non-Heme Iron Absorption
  • Eat non-heme food with Vitamin C. Take your Vitamin C supplement with your iron supplement or eat foods high in Vitamin C with your non-heme foods. Some foods high in Vitamin C are citrus fruits, berries, mangoes, kiwi, papayas, pineapples, melons, broccoli, cauliflower and sweet peppers. Vitamin C has been shown to increase non-heme iron absorption by as much as 3-4 times the normal absorption! So start adding some of these healthy foods to your iron-rich meals.
  • Cook in a cast iron skillet or pot.
  • Combine a heme food with a non-heme food. So have some salmon or chicken to your leafy green salad and to top that off, get a little extra Vitamin C by squeezing a lemon on top.

Putting it all Together

Our bodies rely heavily on iron for proper functioning. If you’re feeling symptoms of iron deficiency like fatigue, extreme weakness, rapid or irregular heartbeat or cold hands and feet, you may have iron deficiency anemia. If that is the case, you can help to resolve your anemia by eating foods rich in iron, avoiding eating foods that inhibit iron absorption within 3 hours of eating your iron-rich foods and combining your iron-rich foods with Vitamin-C rich foods or heme foods.

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