Do you ever feel tired, dizzy, have shortness of breath, heart palpitations (awareness of your heart beat), headaches, or leg pains? These are all symptoms of Anemia which is one of the most common ailments affecting humans. It mainly affects women of child bearing age, intense exercisers, teenagers and young children, however all age groups are susceptible. Here are some important tips to ensure you are eating enough iron, and absorbing it properly.

Heme iron is a lot more absorb-able than non heme iron:

There are two types of iron. Heme iron is derived from animal sources such as red meat, where as non heme iron comes from plant sources such as chickpeas. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the human body. You can affect the absorb-ability of iron by eating it with other vitamins, for example eating foods that contain vitamin C with iron, increases its absorb-ability. However eating calcium with iron decreases its absorb-ability.  Having some heme iron with your vegetables will increase the absorption of the non heme iron (For example you will absorb more iron from your spinach if you have some red meat with it).

Iron Absorption Enhancers:

  • Meat/fish/poultry
  • Fruits: Orange, Orange Juice, cantaloupe, strawberries, grapefruit etc
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomato, tomato juice, potato, green & red peppers
  • White wine

Iron Absorption Inhibitors:

  • Red Wine, Coffee & Tea
  • Vegetables*:Spinach, chard, beet greens, rhubarb and sweet potato
  • Whole grains and bran
  • Soy products

*Why are the above vegetables (chard, beet greens, rhubarb and sweet potato) iron absorption inhibitors? They contain oxalic acid (sometimes referred as oxalate). Oxalic acid binds with iron, hence inhibiting its absorption. Don’t despair; by combining it with iron absorption enhancers you will improve absorb-ability.

How much iron do I need?

If you have already been diagnosed with iron deficiency, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about treatment. For healthy individuals, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron is listed in the following table.

iron-chart*This value is an Adequate Intake (AI) value.  AI is used when there is not enough information known to set a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

Source:  Dietary Reference Intakes, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board.*PDF file (PDF-86k)

What are the best sources of iron?

Now that you know your daily allowance for iron, use the below chart to plan your iron intake for the day. The last column is the amount of iron you actually absorb from the food, so use that for more accuracy. Be aware that these amounts are dependent on the cut, preparation and age of the product. With red meat, generally the deeper red in color, the more iron. Source:

iron-intake-chart3It’s much harder to get your daily dose than you realize! No wonder it’s such a prevalent issue. I challenge you to spend seven days consciously eating the right amount of iron, and report back with your energy levels. I bet they have improved. The key is to do that without increasing your total calories per day. I’m having mussels for dinner tonight.