Is iron deficiency making you tired and sluggish?
- here is what to eat and do to get more energy
If you are suffering from enervating fatigue, problems with concentrating, lack of energy, paleness, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold intolerance, recurrent infections, anemia, or problems with your skin, hair, and nails, you may be lacking iron and you should have it checked. It is primarily women of childbearing age, seniors, and vegans who lack this essential mineral, but even infants, teenagers, athletes, and people who drink a lot of milk may become iron-deficient. In this article, you can read more about how to get enough iron from your diet – regardless if you are a carnivore, pescetarian, or vegan. Also, you will find tips on how to increase your iron absorption.
Iron binds oxygen in the hemoglobin of our red blood cells. Hemoglobin supplies the body’s cells with the oxygen they need to produce energy. Part of the body’s iron stores are used by enzymes with important functions in our brain, immune defense, and various other places.
Iron is generally important for vitality, learning ability, immune defense, cold resistance, skin, hair, nails, healthy complexion, and child growth. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration recommends for adults to get 14 mg of iron each day, but individual needs can vary. Women of childbearing age, blood donors, and elite athletes may need a lot more, and pregnant and lactating women, and infants are often advised to take extra iron. Iron deficiency is normally caused by anemia, unhealthy diets, poor nutrient absorption, rheumatoid arthritis, or chronic infections.
Iron deficiency anemia is typically a result of prolonged dietary iron insufficiency. The iron stores in the liver, the spleen, and the bone marrow must be depleted before symptoms occur.
In the case of low iron levels in the blood and iron deficiency anemia, adults are normally treated with 200 mg of iron daily. The treatment should ideally continue until the iron stores have been replenished. It is advisable to consult your physician if you take iron supplements.
If you lack iron, you should try to get more iron from the diet and preferably from sources that the body can easily absorb.
- Around one in three Danish women of childbearing age is iron-deficient
- Your quality of life is often improved if you address the iron deficiency
- Iron from animal sources (heme iron) has far better absorption than iron from vegetable sources (non-heme iron)
- It is best to cover your need for iron by eating a balanced diet with many different iron sources
Red meat from four-legged animals contains heme iron that has excellent absorption. If you need more iron, eat beef or lamb at least twice every week. One hundred grams of beef or lamb provides around 2 mg of iron (15% of the recommended daily intake). Pork has a lower iron content. Red meat is also a rich source of complete proteins, B vitamins, selenium, and zinc.
The liver has many different functions, including detoxification of the body. Some people mistakenly regard the liver as impure meat, but it does not actually store toxins, it excretes them in the bile. It is normal for natives and predators to eat the liver of their prey as the first thing, and that is because this particular organ contains a lot of nutrition. One hundred grams of calf or pork liver contains between 6-13 mg or iron (heme iron), and 100 grams of liver paté provides around 6 mg of iron. Compared with muscle meat, liver contains around 17 times more vitamin B12 and six times more selenium. In addition, liver provides many other vital nutrients. The reason why pregnant women are discouraged from eating liver is because they must be careful not to consume too much vitamin A.
Shellfish and fish
Shellfish contains quite a lot of iron, with the highest amounts in oysters and other mussels. One hundred grams of mussels contains around 5 mg of iron (heme iron), an amount that covers more than 30 percent of our daily requirement. Fish contains less iron. One hundred grams of cod provides 0.2 mg of iron (heme iron), so it is a good idea to include shellfish in your diet – especially if you are a pescetarian. Fish and shellfish also contain other nutrients such as protein, iodine, selenium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
An egg contains all the essential vitamins and minerals, which makes sense as it must be able to develop into a chicken. One egg (65 grams) contains around 1 mg of iron (heme iron). Eggs are also a good source of selenium, iodine, lecithin, and antioxidants like lutein. Don’t be afraid of getting too much cholesterol. In fact, daily egg consumption can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a Chinese study that is published in British Medical Journal. Other studies support this finding.
Leafy greens, cabbage, and asparagus
Leafy greens, cabbage, and asparagus are good iron sources (non-heme iron). One hundred grams of fresh parsley or spinach contains around 4 mg of iron. One hundred grams of broccoli or asparagus contains around 1 mg of iron. Leafy greens, cabbage, and asparagus also contain dietary fiber, vitamin C, and a number of other useful nutrients.
Tahin and tofu
Tahin and tofu represent good sources of protein and iron (non-heme iron), especially for those who are vegetarians or vegans. Tahin is a paste based on sesame seeds. One hundred grams of tahin contains around 9 mg of iron. Tofu is based on soy beans, and one hundred grams of tofu contains around 2 mg of iron.
Lentils and beans
Lentils and beans are also rich sources of protein and iron (none-heme iron), especially for those who are vegetarians or vegans. One hundred grams of dried lentils or dried brown beans contains around 6 mg of iron. That amount is reduced during preparation because of the liquid uptake.
Red beet juice, prune juice, and apricots
Red beet juice is a traditional remedy for treating iron deficiency. One can also buy fermented red beet juice, which is particularly healthy. Most people know that prunes and prune juice are good sources of fiber, but prunes are also rich in iron (non-heme iron). The same goes for apricots. Avoid excess consumption of dried fruit because of its impact on blood sugar levels and weight.
Nettle tea or nettle juice
In folk medicine, nettle is known as the best vegetable iron source for treating iron deficiency. You can drink nettle tea or you can make a nettle smoothie or some nettle juice that tastes great if you mix it with apple. Nettle also contains many other minerals and vitamin C plus bitter compounds that increase absorption.
It takes vitamin C and stomach acid to absorb iron
Vitamin C increases the body’s absorption of iron, so it is important to get plenty of vitamin C from vegetables and fruits. You may even want to include a vitamin C supplement.
For optimal iron uptake, you also need enough stomach acid. Bitter compounds in the diet help stimulate your gastric juice. Interestingly, low stomach acid can cause the same symptoms as too much stomach acid, which is why many people are treated with antacids that decrease the body’s iron uptake even more.
Avoid or limit your intake of food and beverages that lower your iron uptake
Go easy on coffee and black tea because they contain tannic acid that binds iron. You should also avoid or limit your intake of milk and other dairy products because the high calcium content blocks the stomach acid and the iron uptake.
- Iron deficiency anemia in children is often a result of drinking too much cow’s milk
Some supplements and medicine also block the iron uptake
Calcium supplements and antacids block the production of stomach acid and the iron uptake. Prolonged use of acetylsalicylic acid (e.g., aspirin), tetracycline (antibiotics), NSAID, Antabuse, and bisphosphonates for treating osteoporosis may also inhibit the body’s iron uptake. If you take an iron supplement, you should wait at least 3-4 hours before you take calcium supplements or any of the above-mentioned medical drugs.
Note: Remember your antioxidants and avoid too much iron
Iron catalyzes free radicals so you should not ingest more iron than you need and make sure to combine it with neutralizing antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E plus zinc, selenium, and various plant compounds.
Unhealthy eating habits with too much iron from meat and supplements can increase your risk of atherosclerosis, blood clots, and cancer. People who are not iron-deficient should therefore not take supplements with more iron than the amount you get from a regular multivitamin tablet. You can even buy multivitamins that are without iron.
How to Include More Iron in Your Diet – Treat Anemia and Improve Energy. Scitecdaily.dot.com. 27 April 2022
Daily egg consumption may reduce cardiovascular disease. BMJ. May 21, 2018
Ulla Gjeset Schølberg. Veganere mangler vitaminer og mineraler. Videnskab.dk 2016
Yoon Moberg. Får du nok jern? Det Natur- og Biovidenskabelige Fakultet.
Lægehåndbogen - Jernmangelanæmi - sundhed.dk
Frida - Parametre (fooddata.dk)
Bilag 4 - Dagligt referenceindtag af vitaminer og mineraler. (foedevarestyrelsen.dk)
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