Up to 20 percent of women in the United States are iron deficient, and as many as 2 of every 100 men. You could be one of them.
There are four primary causes of iron deficiency: blood loss, lack of iron in your diet, an inability to absorb iron and pregnancy. Because of monthly menstruation, women are anemic more frequently than men. Vegetarians are also more likely to suffer from low iron, because meat is a common source of iron. The inability to absorb iron can be also caused by health problems like celiac disease.
It’s important to notice symptoms that your iron levels may be low. The most frequent symptom is fatigue. Do you find that you feel lethargic even when you first wake up? You may also have low iron if your complexion is pale, you feel weak, your nails are brittle or you have cold hands and feet. A simple blood test can help you to confirm your iron levels. The Mayo Clinic has more details about anemia symptoms.
How much iron do you need? It depends on your age and sex. Women between the ages 19 to 50 need to get 18 milligrams of iron each day, while men the same age can get away with just 8 milligrams. The recommendations are different if you are pregnant or postmenopausal.
The good news is that meat is not the only food that can help you boost your iron levels. Try eating more of these nine vegetarian foods if you want to get more planted based iron sources in your diet.
- Beans including kidney beans, lentils and white beans. One cup of any of these beans has 6.6 milligrams of iron. Beans are also rich in fiber and potassium.
- Sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds – one ounce has 4 milligrams. Sesame seeds, cashews and pumpkin seeds can be roasted with a little bit of salt and oil for an easy nutrient-rich snack.
- Spinach and other dark leafy greens including kale, swiss chard and bok choy. One cup of cooked dark greens has 6 milligrams of iron.
- Peas or chickpeas – a half cup has 2.25 milligrams of iron.
- Broccoli – 1 cup has 1 milligram of iron. Broccoli is delicious when you saute it with oil, garlic and a bit of red pepper.
- Cashews – 1 ounce (around 18 nuts) has 1.7 milligrams of iron.
- Dark chocolate – 1 square of dark chocolate has 5 ounces of iron. This is the best news, right? If you prefer milk chocolate, try switching to dark (75% or more cocoa) the next ten times you reach for chocolate. You may find your taste buds adapt to the lower sugar version.
- Soy in the form of soybeans or tofu – 1 cup of soy has 3.4 milligrams of iron.
- Baked potato – depending on the size of potato has 2 milligrams of iron.
Bonus tip for non-vegetarians – Seafood – If you don’t eat much meat, but you do like seafood, three ounces of fish like cuttlefish, octopus, clams, oysters or mussels have 7.8 milligrams of iron. Seafood has other health benefits beyond iron, as well as a few risks from eating too much. The types of seafood that are rich in iron are not the most commonly consumed but they are the richest non-meat source of iron.
Incorporating these foods into your daily diet can help you build iron. There are also iron supplements, but as with many non-dietary sources, it is better to get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat.
If you do decide to get iron from supplements, be sure not to take them on an empty stomach and always drink plenty of fluids and fiber. Iron supplements can cause constipation. Vitamin C can help with iron absorption. These are some other foods and vitamins that can enhance or block iron absorption.