Although not many people are highly anemic, a slight iron deficiency is very common. Women are the most prone to low levels of iron.
Iron deficiency is probably one of the most common forms of deficiency found among people in high to middle income groups. Although not many people are highly anemic, a slight iron deficiency is very common. Iron helps distribute oxygen from the lungs to the other parts of the body, so if your body doesn't have adequate iron, it is likely that your body is not receiving the full benefits of oxygen. Here's what you should know.
Who is prone to iron deficiency?
Women are the most prone to developing iron deficiencies. In fact, more than 30% of women of reproductive age and approximately 50% of pregnant women have iron deficiencies.
Women with heavy periods, women with regular periods (during menstruation), pregnant women, toddlers growing at a rapid rate, adolescents, who have erratic eating schedules and expend a lot of energy, strict vegetarians and people with certain health conditions - are also likely to have low iron stores in the body.
Low iron during pregnancy
It is important that you check Hb levels in your blood when you are pregnant. Even if your Hb levels are adequate, it is possible that you may develop anemia as your pregnancy progresses. This is because your baby draws from your body's supply of iron, leaving you lacking. So you need to keep a constant check on your Hb levels during pregnancy, and make it a point to increase iron intake naturally. In fact, during pregnancy your iron intake should almost double! Iron supplements do help, but including foods rich in iron, in your diet on a daily basis, will probably be of more help.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
You know you have iron deficiency if you feel tired and listless often, are low on energy and feel dizzy every now and again. On the other hand, some of these are also symptoms of iron toxicity, which is a condition that results from excessive iron intake - leading to excessive iron storage. Iron toxicity does not result from excessive iron intake from natural sources. It is mostly caused due to excessive intake in the form of iron supplements. This condition also results from frequent blood transfusions.
What foods are rich in iron?
Iron is found in various foods. Haem iron is easily absorbed by the body. This is found in poultry, lean meat, liver, seafood. Non-haem iron is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grain breads, iron-fortified cereals and eggs, and is harder to be absorbed by the body. This is because the absorption of non-haem iron can be inhibited by various other foods. Essentially, whether or not non-heam iron is absorbed by the body depends on what else you eat, in addition to foods rich in such iron.
How can I increase iron absorption?
Vitamin C helps in iron absorption, and it is especially effective if eaten along with food. This is why it is always a good idea to take Vitamin C supplements just after meals. Foods rich in Vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, berries and capsicum, so make sure you include these foods in your meals with regularity, along with green, leafy vegetables. So your aim should basically be to combine foods rich in iron, with foods rich in Vitamin C, in the same meal.
On the other hands, foods that inhibit iron absorption include tea and coffee. So, if you must have these beverages, avoid having them with or just after your meals. Have them in between meals so they don't inhibit iron absorption. Also, avoid having too much tea, coffee or bran.