Getting sufficient iron through dietary means might sound like an easy task. After all, there are plenty of sources to choose from. However, it is very possible for one to be deficient in the mineral if one isn’t careful enough. Iron deficiency occurs when there is a lack of iron in your body, which results in the depletion of red blood cells. The lack of iron in your body can adversely affect brain function, productivity and lead to extreme fatigue. In severe cases, iron deficiency can result in medical conditions such as anaemia. Here are 10 signs that may indicate iron deficiency, and tips on how to rectify it.
Signs that you may be iron deficient include:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen or sore tongue
- Pale skin
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
If you suspect that you may not be getting sufficient iron, then your best bet would be to seek a doctor’s help, who will then be able to decide on the most suitable course of action. However, here are 5 quick tips on how you can guard against iron deficiency so that you aren’t caught with your pants down:
1. Eat foods that are rich in iron
The easiest way to improve iron levels in your body is to consume foods that are rich in iron. Heme iron, a type of easily-absorbed dietary iron derived from haemoglobin, is found in lean red meats, fish and poultry. But if you’re a vegetarian, then iron-rich vegetables like spinach, mushrooms and soybeans may be more suitable for you.
2. Eat foods rich in vitamin C
Aside from acting as an antioxidant, vitamin C plays an integral role in helping your body absorb dietary iron. Some foods that contain high levels of vitamin C include sweet potatoes, strawberries and kale. These can be paired with iron-rich foods to treat or prevent iron deficiency. Alternatively, you can opt to take vitamin C supplements instead.
3. Eat foods rich in vitamin B
According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, vitamin B12 works well with vitamin B9 to help the red blood cells and iron work better in your body. Iron-rich foods like red meat, fish and poultry all contain high levels of vitamin B12, while vegetables like avocados, asparagus and lettuce are rich in vitamin B9. These are some foods that you should consider incorporating in your meals to enhance your daily intake of B vitamins.
4. Avoid smoking
While it is widely known that smoking is detrimental to our health, regular smoking can also affect your body’s ability to absorb dietary iron. In fact, studies have shown that haemoglobin levels increase progressively with the number of cigarettes that are smoked daily. Exposure to second-hand smoke can also bring adverse health effects, so staying away from cigarette smoking in general is the safest way to avoid anaemia.
5. Avoid iron inhibitors
Although there is a variety of foods that can aid in enhancing iron levels in your body, there is also a category of foods that contain iron inhibitors. These are mainly beverages such as milk, coffee and red wine. While these drinks offer some iron, they also inhibit your body’s ability to efficiently absorb iron from other foods that you’ve consumed in the same meal.
While getting enough iron is essential for optimal health, taking in too much of the mineral can lead to a host of health problems as well. Excessive iron intake is referred to as iron overload, which carries the symptoms of joint and abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, irregular heart rhythm, skin colour changes, and a number of other conditions. The recommend dietary intake for adults below the age of 51 is 8mg for men and 18mg for women (50 percent more during pregnancy and 50 percent less during lactation). Keep your iron intake within this range and you should be just fine!