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Tired? Maybe you need more iron

» How much iron?

» Boosting your intake

Pumping iron into your diet

Women can protect themselves from anemia by eating foods rich in iron. The best food source of this mineral is liver, but if that doesn’t appeal to you, here are some tastier alternatives:

  • Lean roast beef or ground beef
  • Lima beans
  • Dark turkey meat
  • Black beans
  • Ham
  • Lentils
  • Oysters
  • Spinach
  • Clams
  • Raisins
  • Tuna
  • Squash
  • Salmon
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Kidney beans
  • Dry breakfast cereals
  • Tofu
  • Almonds

If you find yourself feeling worn out, the problem could be that you—like many women—aren’t getting all the iron your body needs. Iron-deficiency anemia, a common nutritional shortcoming, can lead to serious complications, but avoiding it can be easy.

How much iron?

Iron is vital to the body’s production of hemoglobin, the blood component that carries oxygen throughout the body. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron for women is 18 milligrams—almost twice what men need.

Most women, however, get only about half their RDA of iron, and that can eventually result in iron-deficiency anemia. Other potential causes of iron deficiency are dieting (especially an imbalanced diet); strict vegetarianism (since they’re eliminating animal products, the best sources of iron, strict vegetarians must make a special effort to eat legumes, dried fruits, leafy greens and other foods that contain iron); aspirin or antacid use; or blood loss from peptic ulcers, colitis or hemorrhoids. Even menstruation can cause a deficiency, especially in those who bleed heavily.

Boosting your intake

Increasing the iron in your blood can often be a simple matter of eating more iron-rich foods. (See “Pumping Iron Into Your Diet” for a few suggestions.) Increasing vitamin C intake by just 60 mg (about 1/2 cup of orange juice at each meal) can also greatly increase the body’s ability to absorb iron from food.

Prescription and over-the-counter iron supplements are available, too, but they should be taken only on your doctor’s recommendation. The body generally absorbs only the iron it needs, and too-high doses of the mineral can result in stomach upset, vomiting or, in extreme cases, bleeding inside the stomach. You may even notice a change in stool color. In addition, the type of supplement needed can depend on the specific cause of the deficiency.

If you think you may have an iron deficiency, see your healthcare provider or call the hospital for a referral. A few small changes to your diet now could prevent more serious problems later.


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