One of the first signs of low iron is decreased stamina, fatigue, and weakness, and over time, as the body’s ability to carry oxygen decreases, anemia can occur.
- Women in menstrual years need 18 mg of iron per day.
- Pregnant women need 27 mg/day.
- Breastfeeding women need 9 mg/day.
A special note about oral contraceptives – it has been found that women who are on oral contraceptives actually need less iron than those who are not. The recommended intake for those who are on oral contraceptives is 10.9 mg daily. This would be good to talk about with your health care provider to see if you need less or more.
As women, we need a stable source of iron because we do lose some during our periods. Here is a list of food sources of iron. This list is not extensive because so many foods do contain iron. These are foods that are easy to add to the diet and have higher levels of iron. Enjoy!
1. Tempeh is fermented soybeans. It has got a distinct fermented flavour and can be added to any meal. It can be chopped, grated, or sliced to make veggie bacon.
2. Soybeans can also be eaten, but do not eat them raw (they can be poisonous.) These can be cooked like other beans or they can be sprouted. To learn how to sprout, check out this post. Soybeans have the highest iron levels of these four items.
- Special note on soybeans – most of the soybeans grown these days are GMO. It is too early to tell if there are health issues related to them, so at this time, I always recommend to get organic, non-GMO soybean products to avoid being a guinea pig.
4. Tofu is mashed soybean that is pressed into the blocks we recognize. It can be marinated and then fried, crumbled and scrambled, thrown into a dip or sauce, and even used for desserts. Tofu can contain calcium if preserved this way, so if you are having problems absorbing iron, look for tofu without calcium.
4) Whole Grains
6) Bok Choy
7) Sea Vegetables
8) Sesame Seeds
- Excess calcium – calcium supplementation
- Low stomach acid (hydrochloric acid)
- Antacids – because they decrease stomach acid
- Phosphates – found in pop/soft drinks
- Oxalates in spinach and chard and phytates in whole grains, nuts, and seeds. To reduce these lightly steam greens and soak whole grains, nuts, and seeds before cooking and eating.
- Coffee and black tea – the caffeine and tannic acid reduce iron absorption
- Fast gut motility – if food is going through the system faster than 18-24 hours, iron may have a harder time getting absorbed.
- Some drugs – allopurinol (for gout or kidney stones), tetracylines (antibiotic), or high amounts of aspirin can all make iron absorption more difficult.
- Using a cast iron skillet – this adds iron to food as well as makes it more bioavailable
- Increase stomach acid – if you know that your stomach acid is low you can increase it by eating something bitter before your meal (dandelion leaves, arugula, etc) or go right for the digestive bitters (a liquid found in many health food stores.) The bitter flavour starts the digestive cascade so your stomach will start releasing its juices before you begin to eat. You can also try hydrochloric acid tablets, but make sure you know your acid levels are low, otherwise you may get a burning sensation.
- Vitamin C – eat food containing vitamin C at or around your meal. Bell peppers, green veggies, berries, onion, citrus, pineapple, Brussels sprouts are just some examples. Some of the foods from the iron-containing list also contain vitamin C, so it is a one stop shop for our iron needs! These include spinach, bok choy, sea vegetables, parsley, cumin.
- Our body will naturally increase absorption of iron when we need it most like with blood loss, iron deficiency, as well as during times of growth like pregnancy and breastfeeding.
As an overview, when you need to increase your iron levels, remember the points below:
- Eat whole foods rich in iron
- Remove any foods or circumstances that may decrease absorption
- Add in things that can increase absorption
Iron is so important to our overall wellbeing and can be a little tricky to get enough. This list is a great place to get started.
Please feel free to share this post with people who are having a hard time with their iron levels because this information can be a big help if someone doesn’t know what to do or where to look.