We all know that we need to eat a variety of foods for optimum health. Deficiencies can occur if we fail to eat properly. If you've been unusually tired, irritable, or suffer from headaches, you may be lacking iron in your diet. Here are some tips from nutritionist Leslie Beck.
Nutritionist Leslie Beck joined Balance television host Dr. Marla Shapiro to discuss nutrition strategies for preventing iron deficiency.
"(Iron deficiency) is the number one nutrient deficiency among women," Beck said.
She noted that that women of child-bearing age, women who are menstruating and losing iron every month and women who are pregnant are all at risk of having low iron levels. Also at risk are endurance athletes who lose iron through their sweat and women who diet and don't eat enough calories.
"Vegetarians too," she said. "That's because the vegetarian foods that do have iron, your body is much less efficient at absorbing iron from plant-based foods."
Iron in animal foods, found in red meat, as well as to a smaller degree in poultry, fish and eggs, is very well utilized by the body, she explained. So even though our diet only contributes 10 per cent of animal-based iron, because it is absorbed so well, it accounts for a lot of our iron.
Red meat is a great source of iron. If you have a three-ounce piece of lean steak, you're getting approximately three milligrams of iron. A woman between 19-50 who is still menstruating needs 18 milligrams of iron each day. Men need only eight. Pregnant women need 27 milligrams per day, which is why iron supplements are important during pregnancy.
Beck offered up a list of good plant-based sources of iron. She did reiterate the fact that the body absorbs these sources less efficiently. However, when it comes to plant-based iron, she noted that adding a source of vitamin C (such as orange juice or strawberries) will actually enhance the body's ability to absorb iron.
Plant-based iron sources
One cup of beans in tomato sauce gives you five milligrams of iron.
A half-cup of kidney beans gives you 2.5 milligrams.
A half-cup of prune juice provides approximately five milligrams.
One cup of cooked spinach has about four milligrams.
*** If you're counting on greens for your iron, you should cook them. That process releases some of the iron that's bound to natural plant compounds so you can better absorb it. If you eat your greens raw, you'll get far less iron.
Dried fruits, such as dried apricots, raisins, dried figs and prunes are also very high in iron.
Adding a tablespoon of molasses to a hot cereal will give you approximately three milligrams of iron.
A serving of cream of wheat will supply you with almost 50 per cent of your daily intake, Beck said. Enriched breakfast cereals fortified with iron will provide anywhere from five to six milligrams per serving. Instant oatmeal is another good source.
Iron supplements are hard on your stomach, so Beck avoids recommending them. She does recommend taking a daily multivitamin and mineral which will help in meeting iron needs.