Could You Be Iron Deficient?
Being iron deficient is not unheard of and may be more common than we realize. Iron is a super important mineral needed to form hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout each part of our bodies starting from the lungs. This mechanism is essential for our survival. We need sufficient amounts of iron for many functions in the body which include circulation, energy production, immune system function, digestion, utilization of nutrients (especially fatty acids) and cognitive function.. just to name a few.
Iron is a mineral needed most in women (especially during pregnancy, breast feeding and menstruation) and in children during periods of growth. This is because iron is being utilized or excreted from the body much more quickly during these times. Although men do not require nearly as much, it is still possible for the gents to have an iron deficiency too.
You may have heard of iron deficiency as a term used interchangeably with anemia. It is possible have iron deficiency without anemia. Iron deficiency with anemia indicates there is a reduction in red blood cell count throughout the body, which poses more severity with symptoms and possible organ damage. Because diagnosing anemia can take time and may not show up instantly on blood tests, one of the first signs of undetected anemia may actually be iron deficiency.
The most common symptoms of low iron, and usually the first to present themselves are fatigue and lack of energy. Other symptoms associated with being iron deficient include irritability, lack of motivation or “zest for life”, headaches, constipation, dizziness, decreased attention span, decreased appetite, weight loss and memory loss.
What about vegetarian or plant based diets, you ask? It is possible to get iron from plants, it’s true. All vegetables contain some iron in the non-heme form. The non heme form of iron can be potentially more difficult (but not completely impossible) for the body to absorb. However, egg yolks and salmon are good sources of iron and plant based food sources of iron include legumes, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses, almonds, brazil nuts and leafy greens such as chard and kale.
If you are a meat eater, meat contains the heme form of iron which is said to typically be best absorbed by the body because it has already been bound to a protein. Organ meats such as liver, and beef are said to be the best sources of heme iron, followed by shellfish, chicken and oysters.
So, what can cause a person to become iron deficient, besides going through different life stages?
- Poor absorption of nutrients, due to lack of stomach acid, which can result from a diet high in refined foods, antacids and food sensitivities. Stomach acid production also naturally decreases with age.
- Other mineral imbalances. For example, too much calcium competes with the absorption of iron in the body while not enough copper can reduce absorption.
- Excessive coffee or black tea consumption. The tannic acid in coffee and tea are said to lower the absorption of iron.
- Lack of vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron.
- Depleted nutrients in the soil, which our food is grown from.
- A diet lacking an adequate amount and variety of vegetables and higher in refined starches, sugars, alcohol, etc.
- Soy products may interfere with iron absorption
- The protective coating, phytic acid, on whole grains and legumes can also interfere with iron absorption.
It’s always best to check with a health professional to determine what is right for your individual needs. If you suspect you may iron deficient and need to increase the iron in your diet, you can try:
- Eating citrus fruits with your vegetables
- Supplementing with a vitamin C or a hydrochloric acid tablet to increase stomach acid production
- Switching from coffee or black tea to green or herbal tea
- Cooking with cast iron cookware
- Increasing your vegetable consumption and decreasing soy consumption
- Soaking your grains and legumes before cooking them
- Drinking room temperature water with citrus also increases stomach acid production naturally and adds a boost of vitamin C.