There’s a reason that as we age we seem to see more advertisements for supplements and multi-vitamins and that’s probably for two reasons. The first one being that as we get older we seem to be more aware and concerned of our health and nutrition. The second is that sadly, as we age, getting all the daily nutrients we need can be challenging. Iron is one nutrient in particular that can be particular hard to get an adequate amount of, particularly for women. Despite a wide variety of food sources that are rich in iron, women are particularly susceptible to having low iron levels. This likely isn’t surprising since women over the age of 19 require more than twice the daily amount of iron as men.
If you haven’t been tested for iron levels recently by your doctor, there are a few symptoms that can indicate you’re not getting enough. Fatigue, irritability, headaches and decreased immune function are all symptoms of low iron levels. Iron deficiency is also the most common cause of anemia; which is when your body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to all the areas that need it in your body.
Other symptoms can include brittle nails, inflammation of your tongue, and cold hands or feet. If you think you might have low iron levels, we highly recommend reaching out to a health professional because you’ll get lost down the rabbit hole of internet diagnosis’ and it takes a professional to determine if that’s really the source of your symptoms.
For many of us, although we we’re not displaying any symptoms, ensuring we’re getting enough iron is a concern. The good news is that there are some simple ways to increase your body’s iron absorption to ensure you’re getting the most nutrients from the foods you eat.
Whether you’re concerned about your iron levels or not, having a few servings of dark leafy greens every day is always a good idea. Spinach, kale, cooked green peas, or asparagus are all iron rich foods. Tomato puree or sauce, lima beans, red meats, or potatoes (with the skin) are also foods to add to your meals to increase your iron levels. Here at Pura, we love using spirulina or chlorella to boost our iron intakes.
The Dietitians of Canada have a thorough table here where you can find a long list of foods to incorporate into your diet to increase your iron levels.
Many people are surprised to learn that even though they’re eating a wide variety of iron-rich foods, they are still low on iron levels. Sometimes it’s because they’re not absorbing the iron efficiently.
There are two types of iron heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes from animal-based foods, including dairy products, meat, poultry and fish while nonheme are from plant-based sources (vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds). Our bodies absorb about 15% to 35% of heme iron consumed, while nonheme iron is absorbed at a rate of 2% to 20%. This means that for vegans or vegetarians it can be more difficult getting enough iron.
But instead of having a spinach smoothie with every meal, try adding lemon water or orange juice to your meals since vitamin C has shown to be help our bodies absorb iron when they’re digested together.
Vitamin A and Beta-carotene (which can be turned into Vitamin A by your body) are found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, squash, red peppers, cantaloupe, apricots, oranges and peaches. If you’re looking to increase your iron absorption then consider adding some of these Vitamin A-rich foods to your diet since one study showed that it could increase iron absorption by up to 200%!
Just like certain nutrient-rich foods can increase your iron absorption, certain foods can have the opposite effect. Try eating your milk, cheese, or calcium supplements at separate times from your iron rich foods since calcium from these studies has shown to possibly hinder iron absorption by as much as 60%.
The presence of Polyphenols (organic chemicals) in your coffee and tea when consumed around the time of your meals is another possible reason you’re not absorbing as much iron as you’d like.
Besides being a beautiful addition to your kitchen and being able to give you that perfectly fried egg, using a cast iron pan can increase the iron content in your food. Although studies have yet to conclude exactly how much it can improve iron intake.
Looking for more ways to improve your health through healthy eating? Check out our PURA blog post on Health Scams to Avoid.