According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Over 30 percent of the world’s population is anemic, many because of an iron deficiency. If you are anemic, your red blood cells are incapable of delivering enough oxygen to the rest of your body, leaving you feeling tired, weak and dizzy. Eat foods rich in iron to increase levels of this nutrient and reduce your feelings of fatigue.
Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin and myoglobin. These proteins help carry and store oxygen in the body. Dietary iron is in heme or nonheme form. The recommended dietary allowance of iron for men over 18 years is 8 milligrams. Women 19 to 50 years of age should strive for 18 milligrams a day, and women over 50 require 8 milligrams daily. Too much iron can lead to gastrointestinal problems, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.The tolerable upper intake level has been set at 45 milligrams per day for adolescents and adults.
Heme Iron Sources
The hemoglobin and myoglobin of animals contain heme iron, making animal products a superior source of iron. Your body absorbs heme and nonheme iron sources differently. The means by which heme iron is absorbed is more effective and less influenced by other dietary factors compared to nonheme iron. The typical diet only provides about 10 to 15 percent heme iron, but it accounts for a third of your total absorbed iron. Red meat is an excellent source of heme iron. A 3-ounce serving of beef provides you with 2.3 milligrams of iron. Chicken contains 1.1 milligrams of iron per serving. Seafood lovers delight as seafood is a superior source of iron. Oysters top the list with 5 milligrams per serving, while shrimp and tuna both have around 1.3 milligrams per serving.
Nonheme Iron Sources
You find nonheme iron in vegetables, fruits and grains. Nutrients in other foods you eat interfere with absorption of both iron sources, but this is more pronounced for nonheme iron because of the different way in which nonheme iron is absorbed. Dried beans, particularly lentils, are an excellent source of nonheme iron. A half cup of cooked lentils contain 3.3 milligrams of iron. Lima beans, soybeans and kidney beans are also a source of iron. Dark green vegetables, including broccoli, kale, collards and spinach, are high in iron and so too are dried fruits, such as prunes and raisins. Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and oatmeal, provide you with iron. Many other cereals and breads are fortified with iron, so check the nutrition label when selecting which brand to buy.
Infants and children between 6 months and 4 years of age and adolescents are at an increased risk of iron-deficiency anemia because those ages coincide with periods of rapid growth. Pregnant women also require more iron to support the developing fetus. Vegetarians are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia because meat products contain the most easily digestible form of iron. If you or your children fall into one of these at-risk groups, make sure you are consuming enough iron-rich foods. Avoid drinking coffee, tea and wine when eating iron-containing foods. These beverages contain polyphenols which inhibit iron absorption. Avoid dairy products because calcium hinders heme and nonheme iron absorption. Opt for vitamin C sources instead, like orange juice. Vitamin C promotes absorption of nonheme iron sources.
Michelle Fisk began writing professionally in 2011. She has been published in the "Physician and Sports Medicine Journal." Her expertise lies in the fields of exercise physiology and nutrition. Fisk holds a Master of Science in kinesiology from Marywood University.