When you're told you are low on iron, what do you do? Usual thing for the doctors is that they prescribe a dose of iron tablets. I've always known iron tablets can have some awful side effects like constipation but they also cause the most irritating stomach pains as well.
So why is iron so important?
Your red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Haemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that allows them to carry oxygen. Your body needs iron in order to make haemoglobin.
People who have anaemia don't have enough haemoglobin. A common cause of anaemia occurs when your body doesn't make enough haemoglobin because it doesn't have enough iron. This is called iron deficiency anaemia. There are several other types of anaemia, but iron deficiency anaemia is the most common.
There are two forms of dietary iron - heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in animal foods that originally contained haemoglobin such as red meat, fish and poultry. Heme iron is derived from haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells. Iron in plant foods such as lentils and beans are known to contain nonheme iron. Heme iron is absorbed better than nonheme iron.
A number of things can cause low iron levels in your body:
Diet: You may have low iron levels if you don't eat enough foods high in iron. This is mostly a problem for children, young women and people who don't eat meat i.e. vegetarians.
Inability to absorb iron: The iron in your food is absorbed by the body in the small intestine. Diseases that affect your small intestine's ability to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease, may cause low iron levels in your body. Some foods or medicines, including milk, antacids or stomach acid-lowering medicines, also can prevent your body from absorbing iron.
Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant or who are breastfeeding need more iron than women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding. That's why pregnant women often are tested for anaemia and why they need to eat more iron-rich foods or take a daily iron pill.
Blood loss: Heavy periods may cause low iron levels in women. Internal bleeding, usually in the digestive tract, also can cause blood loss. A stomach ulcer, ulcerative colitis, cancer, or taking aspirin or similar medicine for a long time can cause bleeding in your stomach or intestines.
Symptoms of anaemia include:
- Feeling tired
- Unusual shortness of breath
- Fast heartbeat
- Difficulty maintaining body temperature
- Brittle nails and hair loss
- Headaches, dizziness or light headedness.
So how do you get your iron levels back up the natural way? The best way is to increase your intake of iron rich foods. If you are prescribed iron tablets by your doctor for any reason, please do take them but to avoid getting to that severe point where you would need tablets, include iron rich foods as part of your daily diet. Here are some examples of iron rich foods:
Beetroot are a very good source of calcium, iron, Vitamins A and C and are an excellent source of folic acid. They are a very good source of fibre, manganese and potassium. Beetroot are a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, iron and vitamin B6. Betacyanin is the pigment that gives beetroot its color, and has powerful antioxidant properties.
Dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of many vitamins (like vitamins A, C, and K and folate) and minerals (such as iron and calcium). They are also great sources of fibre. Research suggests that the nutrients found in dark green vegetables may prevent certain types of cancers and promote heart health. Examples of green leafy vegetables are broccoli, collard greens, kale and spinach. All these vegetables are packed full of vitamins A, C and k, folate, fibre, calcium and iron.
Nuts are packed full of protein and are a good source of healthy fats, not to mention the all the vitamins including antioxidants and minerals they contain. Walnuts and Brazil nuts are quite popular because of their high B vitamin and antioxidant content. Cashews on the other hand helps the body utilize iron, eliminate free radicals, develop bone and connective tissue, and produce the skin and hair pigment melanin.
Nuts and seeds have high iron content, generally speaking. Sesame seeds top the list and are followed by various squash seeds. Sunflower seeds, cashews, flaxseed, pine nuts, and hazelnuts make the list as well. Nuts are packed full of protein and are a good source of healthy fats, not to mention all the vitamins including antioxidants and minerals they contain. The most popular healthy type of nuts are walnuts and brazil nuts because of their high vitamin B and antioxidant content. Cashews help the body to utilize iron and eliminate free radicals.
Legumes also called pulses, is another name for beans, peas, and lentils. This group also includes chickpeas, baked and refried beans, soy milk, tempeh, and texturized vegetable protein. Legumes are all good sources of fibre, protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins, and other nutrients that may prevent cancer and heart disease. Lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins, especially B3, which is essential for both a healthy nervous and digestive system. They are high in iron, zinc and calcium and are a good replacement for red meat.
Liver is a vitamin rich food and is packed full of iron. In the early 1900s, liver was prescribed as a cure for anaemia and also as a supplement for pregnant women. Liver contains a high level of vitamin A which is beneficial in a number of ways like preventing asthma in children, prevent kidney stones, and regulate blood sugar and fats. Additionally, the vitamin A found in liver can protect you from some environmental toxins.
Citrus fruits - vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from food so it's a good idea to have good sources of vitamin C when eating iron rich foods. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, strawberries, melons, dark green leafy vegetables and potatoes. To have an effect, these foods must be eaten at the same meal as the iron source.