Women are at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. So as a woman, it’s important to understand what causes it as well as ways you can prevent it from happening.
We’ve got you covered with the symptoms and causes of iron deficiency anemia, as well as a list of 12 foods high in iron that will help you with both prevention and treatment.
What Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?
A decreased level of hemoglobin in your red blood cells causes a condition known as anemia. Hemoglobin is a protein that helps to make up those red blood cells, which in turn help carry oxygen to the tissues in your body.
Iron deficiency anemia is a very common form of anemia. When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it is unable to create hemoglobin. This lack of hemoglobin prevents your body from getting the oxygen it needs.
13 Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia
There are many symptoms that can indicate iron deficiency anemia. For most people, they are quite mild or not noticeable at all, and they don’t know anything is wrong until they have a routine blood test. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may include:
- Moderate to extreme fatigue
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Tongue swelling or soreness
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Crawling or tingling feeling in your legs
- Poor appetite
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
- Cravings for things without nutritional value (ie. dirt or ice)
7 Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia
There are a number of reasons why someone may become deficient in iron, causing anemia.
- Insufficient amount of iron – Iron comes from the foods that we eat. When you consume an inadequate amount of iron, your body can become deficient over time. Iron is particularly important for babies and children for proper growth and development. It’s also important for pregnant women because of the rapid growth and development that takes place.
- Inability to absorb iron – When the iron that you get from food travels through your small intestine, it is absorbed into your bloodstream. Certain diseases can prevent this absorption from happening. When part of your small intestine has been removed or bypassed, such as gastric bypass surgery, it can affect your body’s ability to properly absorb iron. Celiac disease, which is an intestinal disorder, can also be a cause.
- Genetics – Certain genetic conditions or mutations can also make it difficult for your body to absorb iron or worsen an already existing problem. For example, the TMRPSS6 mutation causes the body to make too much hepcidin, which is a hormone that blocks the intestines from absorbing iron.
- Blood loss due to menstruation – If you experience heavy blood loss during your period, you lose large amounts of iron. This may result in iron deficiency anemia.
- Pregnancy – During pregnancy, iron deficiency may occur because the body’s iron stores need to work twice as hard. A woman has higher levels of blood which means they must have higher levels of iron to support both them and the growing fetus. As a result, many women must take iron supplements while pregnant.
- Blood loss or internal bleeding – There are certain medical conditions that lead to iron deficiency anemia. Stomach ulcers, colon or colorectal cancer, or hiatal hernias cause slow blood loss which can lead to a deficiency. Iron deficiency anemia can also occur due to taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin which sometimes cause intestinal bleeding.
- Endometriosis – Heavy blood loss often occurs with endometriosis because of heavy cycles. Endometriosis can sometimes be difficult to diagnose resulting in unknown iron deficiency.
How to Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia: 3 Tips
These 3 tips will help to prevent iron deficiency in both children and adults:
- Eating foods high in Vitamin C – Vitamin C has been shown to help with iron absorption. Eating foods that are high in Vitamin C is a great way to prevent iron deficiency. Choose foods such as broccoli, leafy greens, brussels sprouts, oranges, strawberries, or pineapple.
- Breastmilk or iron-fortified formula – Parents can help to prevent iron deficiency in their little ones through mom’s breastmilk or by giving them formula that is iron-fortified.
- Eating iron-rich foods – The number one way to prevent iron deficiency is by eating iron-rich foods. Check out the list below for a list of 12 foods high in iron.
12 Foods High in Iron
Iron can be broken down into two types – heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal proteins including poultry, red meat, fish and other seafood. This type of iron is most easily absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron is found in other animal sources such as milk and dairy products as well as plant-based foods. It is harder for our bodies to absorb, so this is where eating foods high in Vitamin C can help.
Following is a list of 12 foods that are high in iron:
- Red meat – This high-quality protein source is an easily-accessible way to boost your iron. It’s also rich in B vitamins, zinc, and selenium.
- Shellfish – All shellfish are a great source of iron, with mussels, oysters, and clams having the highest levels. Shellfish also help increase the blood levels of good cholesterol. While all shellfish is rich in nutrients, be careful to avoid consuming those that contain high levels of mercury.
- Spinach – Spinach is a superfood rich in iron as well as other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It is an especially good source of Vitamin C, making this non-heme iron easily absorbed without supplementation.
- Turkey – This Thanksgiving favorite should be on your shopping list more than once a year. Dark turkey meat provides high levels of iron as well as protein, zinc, and B vitamins.
- Pumpkin seeds – Raising your iron levels isn’t the only benefit of this tasty snack. Pumpkin seeds provide 40% of your daily requirement of magnesium. They also are a great source of zinc and Vitamin K.
- Quinoa – This gluten-free grain is more than a source of iron. It has the highest level of protein than any other grain. Quinoa is high in folate, magnesium, and antioxidants as well, making it a healthy choice.
- Dark chocolate – Arguably the most delicious source of iron on this list, dark chocolate promotes gut health and is a rich source of both copper and magnesium.
- Tofu – This popular soy-based food gives you 19% of the iron you need. Plus it contains compounds called isoflavones, which help reduce insulin levels, decrease your risk of heart disease, and help relieve menopausal symptoms.
- Broccoli – Just one cup of this green vegetable provides 6% of the iron you need each day. That one cup also packs a whopping 112% of your daily Vitamin C, making this non-heme iron source easily absorbed.
- Fish – High in iron, fish is a nutritious source of omega-3 fatty acids as well. Tuna in particular is an easy-to-grab iron source and will provide 8% of your daily requirement.
- Legumes – Nutrient-rich legumes are an easy way to increase your iron levels. They can also reduce inflammation, help you lose weight, and are a great source of fiber.
- Organ meats – Highly nutritious, liver and other organ meats are high in iron and a great source of protein. Not only that, they are rich in B vitamins, selenium, and copper. One serving of liver will give you 36% of your daily recommended amount of iron.
By incorporating some of these foods high in iron to your daily meals and snacks, you’ll be able to reach your daily requirements of this essential nutrient.
This post contains affiliate links.
If you found this collection of foods high in iron helpful, please share this post on Pinterest!
And if you’re looking for more health-related tips please follow our Health board where we share all kinds of helpful ideas we find each day!