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How Much Iron Do We Need?

Posted Oct 21 2011 7:12am

TGIF Friends!!  This week seemed to fly by!  I love when weeks go fast, however, I feel like time in general is going way too fast!  October is almost over and that makes me super sad!

Today, I wanted to touch on an issue that may or may not be affecting me right now.  I know…that sounds absolutely ridiculous.  You either have an issue or you don’t have an issue.  Right now, I’m thinking about making an appointment to see my doctor about having a possible iron deficiency.  I actually feel weird going to my doctor when there isn’t something blatantly wrong with me like strep throat or the flu or something, but I think getting tested for an iron deficiency is a wise decision for me.

Why I think I might have a problem…

The possibility of an iron deficiency was brought to my attention by my aunt, who is a nurse.  I can honestly say that there is never a time that I’m not tired.  I could lay down anywhere at anytime and take a nap.  My alarm goes off in the morning and I feel like I have slept for five minutes.  I know I need to get more sleep, but even on the nights when I get well into 7-8 hours, I still wake up exhausted, and if I don’t, I am tired two hours after I wake up.  In addition to always being tired, I have noticed that I have been freezing to death lately!  Usually, I’m the girl that’s always hot, sweating while I’m just sitting still, and wearing flip-flops well into December.  I have no idea where that girl went because now I am the girl that always has to have a sweater with her and has actually been wearing socks and shoes when she leaves the house.  For me…that’s unheard of…I hate socks.  I obviously wear them to workout with my tennis shoes and I do enjoy an argyle knee sock every now and then with my boots, but other than that, I hate socks.

Um…sorry for that sock rant.

Anyway, the combination of always being exhausted with my change in bodily temperature first led me to believe that I needed to be checked for a thyroid condition.  My grandma takes medication for a condition and so does my aunt.  It’s a genetic problem, so it’s very likely I could have a thyroid problem.  My aunt seems to think that checking for an iron deficiency is the first step.  I do not really eat red meat and, if I do, it might be once or twice a year.  I do eat beans and I try to eat chicken or fish when I’m out, but I know I don’t eat enough of it.  In college, there were two times that I couldn’t give blood because my little drop of blood wouldn’t sink to the bottom of the tube during my finger prick test…meaning I had low levels of hemoglobin, which is the red part of the blood that carries iron…so I know that I have had iron problems in the past.

exhausted   (source)

What I can do to help my problem…

Iron can be picked up in the body in two forms: heme iron, which comes from meat, poultry, and fish, and non-heme iron, which comes from plants.  When it comes to iron, different foods that are eaten can either help or hinder iron absorption into the body.  For example, foods that contain heme iron help absorption from foods that contain non-heme iron.  Also, foods containing Vitamin C can enhance absorption from non-heme foods when eaten together.  In addition, foods that contain calcium can hinder the absorption of heme iron.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an average woman between the ages of 19 and 30 need 18 milligrams of iron per day. The following tables show foods that are common sources of iron and foods that we can eat in conjunction with them to increase iron absorption.

Food, Standard Amount Iron (mg) Calories
Clams, canned, drained, 3 oz 23.8 126
*Fortified dry cereals (various), about 1 oz 1.8 to 21.1 54 to 127
Cooked oysters, cooked, 3 oz 10.2 116
Organ meats (liver, giblets), cooked, 3 oza 5.2 to 9.9 134 to 235
*Fortified instant cooked cereals (various), 1 packet 4.9 to 8.1 Varies
*Soybeans, mature, cooked, ½ cup 4.4 149
*Pumpkin and squash seed kernels, roasted, 1 oz 4.2 148
*White beans, canned, ½ cup 3.9 153
*Blackstrap molasses, 1 Tbsp 3.5 47
*Lentils, cooked, ½ cup 3.3 115
*Spinach, cooked from fresh, ½ cup 3.2 21
Beef, chuck, blade roast, cooked, 3 oz 3.1 215
Beef, bottom round, cooked, 3 oz 2.8 182
*Kidney beans, cooked, ½ cup 2.6 112
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 3 oz 2.5 177
Beef, rib, cooked, 3 oz 2.4 195
*Chickpeas, cooked, ½ cup 2.4 134
Duck, meat only, roasted, 3 oz 2.3 171
Lamb, shoulder, cooked, 3 oz 2.3 237
*Prune juice, ¾ cup 2.3 136
Shrimp, canned, 3 oz 2.3 102
*Cowpeas, cooked, ½ cup 2.2 100
Ground beef, 15% fat, cooked, 3 oz 2.2 212
*Tomato puree, ½ cup 2.2 48
*Lima beans, cooked, ½ cup 2.2 108
*Soybeans, green, cooked, ½ cup 2.2 127
*Navy beans, cooked, ½ cup 2.1 127
*Refried beans, ½ cup 2.1 118
Beef, top sirloin, cooked, 3 oz 2.0 156
*Tomato paste, ¼ cup 2.0 54

The *starred* items contain non-heme iron and should be eaten with foods that contain Vitamin C:

Food, Standard Amount Vitamin C (mg) Calories Guava, raw, ½ cup 188 56 Red bell pepper, raw, ½ cup 142 20 Red bell pepper, cooked, ½ cup 116 19 Kiwi fruit, 1 medium 70 46 Orange, raw, 1 medium 70 62 Orange juice, ¾ cup 61 to 93 79 to 84 Green bell pepper, raw, ½ cup 60 15 Green bell pepper, cooked, ½ cup 51 19 Grapefruit juice, ¾ cup 50 to 70 71 to 86 Vegetable juice cocktail, ¾ cup 50 34 Strawberries, raw, ½ cup 49 27 Brussels sprouts, cooked, ½ cup 48 28 Cantaloupe, ¼ medium 47 51 Papaya, raw, ¼ medium 47 30 Kohlrabi, cooked, ½ cup 45 24 Broccoli, raw, ½ cup 39 15 Edible pod peas, cooked, ½ cup 38 34 Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup 37 26 Sweet potato, canned, ½ cup 34 116 Tomato juice, ¾ cup 33 31 Cauliflower, cooked, ½ cup 28 17 Pineapple, raw, ½ cup 28 37 Kale, cooked, ½ cup 27 18 Mango, ½ cup 23 54

Okay…so now that I have completely made you bored out of your minds by talking about health problems and giving you tables to look at on a Friday (I know….I’m sorry), let’s wrap this up!  The CDC recommends eating a healthy diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free milk, lean meats, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts, just to name a few basics.  In general, this balanced diet can provide the correct amount of iron needed in the body.

Please share your thoughts on iron deficiency with me!  Have you or anyone you know had an iron deficiency?  If you are a vegetarian (and even if you are not), how do you ensure that you get enough iron in your diet?

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