Are you lacking energy, feeling dizzy and weak, is your skin pale, are you short of breath and do you have a swollen tongue or a strange tingling feeling in the legs? If you answered “yes” to one of these, you might be experiencing symptoms of iron deficiency. It is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Luckily, iron is one of the easiest nutrients to boost in your body once you are aware of the problem. These are the best ways to increase your iron intake.
Eat the right food
As iron is involved in our immune system (which fights infections) and in the formation of hemoglobin (which supplies our body with oxygen), it means that it is a crucial component of our red blood cells. The iron gets into our bloodstream when we eat iron-rich food which is absorbed through the upper small intestine. The foods that best boost your iron intake are vegetables with dark green leafs (such as spinach, kale, and watercress), brown rice, whole and enriched grains, beans, nuts, seeds, white and red meat (particularly chicken, beef, turkey, duck, oysters, and mussels), fish and tofu.
Boost iron absorption
By combining food rich in iron with food items that are rich in vitamin C in the same meal, you will increase your body’s iron absorption. This is especially important when we consume iron from plant sources. The body absorbs iron from plant sources harder than from animal sources, so there are two ways to help your body – eat meat, poultry or fish in the same meal as the plant rich in iron and eat or drink food which is a source of vitamin C in the same meal. So that means you can start boosting your iron intake as soon as today by eating a bowl of iron-rich cereal and drink a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Avoid foods that decrease iron absorption
Besides the foods that boost iron absorption, there are also foods that decrease it if eaten at the same time so they need to be avoided. You may be eating a beef steak every day but if you are also having a spinach salad with it, then the oxalic acid in the spinach will bind to the iron from the beef in the intestine and prevent the absorption. The same will happen with whole grains, coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, dairy products any other type of anti-acid food.
Take iron supplements
Although it is best and most efficient to take your full daily dose of iron from natural sources, sometimes that is just not possible. In this case, taking iron supplements to rebuild the iron stocks in your body can be a solution. They come in different shapes and sizes such as tablets, chewable tablets, capsules, and liquids. Don’t forget that taking more iron than your body needs can lead to serious health issues, so always get instructions from your medical professional about how much and when should you take these supplements. Also remember that iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach and should not be taken with milk nor calcium. A sign that the iron supplements are working fine is a black stool so don’t panic.
Cook with cast iron
This method of increasing our iron intake might be the surprising but it is also logical. A study published in the Journal of Food Science in 2006 concluded that cooking food in cast-iron pots and pans increased the level of iron in the food. It is mainly the foods with organic acids such as tomato and cream sauces that influence the outflow of iron from the pan into the food.
Whatever way you choose for achieving your goal of increasing your iron intake, be cautious that your body doesn’t get too much of iron from supplements, eating iron-rich foods and cooking in iron cast pots all at the same time. Once your body gets too much iron, you will experience symptoms of iron toxicity which include vomiting, irritability, fatigue and nausea. Have in mind that it may take up to 4 months of intentionally practicing these pieces of advice before your iron deficiency symptoms disappear as the lifespan of a red blood cell is 120 days. Most importantly, before you start eating more iron-rich food or start taking iron supplement products, have your iron levels tested – that is the only certain way to know if you are having an iron deficiency.