Everything You Need To Know About Your Iron Intake

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Amelia Phillips

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Do you ever feel tired, dizzy, have shortness of breath, heart palpitations (awareness of your heart beat), headaches, or leg pains? These are all symptoms of Anemia which is one of the most common ailments affecting humans. It mainly affects women of child bearing age, intense exercisers, teenagers and young children, however all age groups are susceptible. Here are some important tips to ensure you are eating enough iron, and absorbing it properly.

Heme iron is a lot more absorb-able than non heme iron:

There are two types of iron. Heme iron is derived from animal sources such as red meat, where as non heme iron comes from plant sources such as chickpeas. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the human body. You can affect the absorb-ability of iron by eating it with other vitamins, for example eating foods that contain vitamin C with iron, increases its absorb-ability. However eating calcium with iron decreases its absorb-ability.  Having some heme iron with your vegetables will increase the absorption of the non heme iron (For example you will absorb more iron from your spinach if you have some red meat with it).

Iron Absorption Enhancers:

  • Meat/fish/poultry
  • Fruits: Orange, Orange Juice, cantaloupe, strawberries, grapefruit etc
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomato, tomato juice, potato, green & red peppers
  • White wine

Iron Absorption Inhibitors:

  • Red Wine, Coffee & Tea
  • Vegetables*:Spinach, chard, beet greens, rhubarb and sweet potato
  • Whole grains and bran
  • Soy products

*Why are the above vegetables (chard, beet greens, rhubarb and sweet potato) iron absorption inhibitors? They contain oxalic acid (sometimes referred as oxalate). Oxalic acid binds with iron, hence inhibiting its absorption. Don’t despair; by combining it with iron absorption enhancers you will improve absorb-ability.

How much iron do I need?

If you have already been diagnosed with iron deficiency, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about treatment. For healthy individuals, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron is listed in the following table.

iron-chart*This value is an Adequate Intake (AI) value.  AI is used when there is not enough information known to set a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

Source:  Dietary Reference Intakes, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board.*PDF file (PDF-86k)

What are the best sources of iron?

Now that you know your daily allowance for iron, use the below chart to plan your iron intake for the day. The last column is the amount of iron you actually absorb from the food, so use that for more accuracy. Be aware that these amounts are dependent on the cut, preparation and age of the product. With red meat, generally the deeper red in color, the more iron. Source:

iron-intake-chart3It’s much harder to get your daily dose than you realize! No wonder it’s such a prevalent issue. I challenge you to spend seven days consciously eating the right amount of iron, and report back with your energy levels. I bet they have improved. The key is to do that without increasing your total calories per day. I’m having mussels for dinner tonight.

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  • http://www.fitsea.com Abhishek

    Very useful article..Many of us are not aware of the right amount of iron we should consume and the foods containing them..This will be really helpful for them.Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Hi Abhishek,

    Thanks for the great feedback, I believe a lack of iron is the main reason many people feel constantly tired. Amelia

  • Pingback: 6 Common Nutrition Mistakes…and How to Fix Them | Ironman by 40!

  • Anjali

    Excellent article!!.It would help to measure everyday iron intake which most of us are unaware of and suffer from iron deficiency.

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    So true Anjali,

    I had mine tested the other day and even though I eat a lot of red meat I still was on the low side of normal.
    It has such a big effect on energy levels and performance I am surprised more people don’t it seriously.

    Amelia

  • Amiee

    i take spirulina tabs and also liquid iron by floradix.
    great read though, as i know many ppl that are anemic and i def feel it if my levels are low…
    spirulina is high in protein and iron… but try to buy australian as apparently i read a report on oseas shipped products and they have some issues…

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Hi Amiee,

    Great work, Liquid iron is far more absorptive than caps.

    Amelia

  • Anjali

    Hi I am unable to take iron supplements as it upsets my stomach.Is there any soft iron that can go easy on my digestion.?

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Hi Anjali,
    Colloidal minerals have been known to be gentler on the stomach and better absorbed than solid capsules. However you can’t go wrong getting all your iron from whole foods such as the one’s I have listed above.
    Amelia

  • Martin

    Meat is a very overrated form of nutrition. Of course the massive, multi-billion dollar meat industry will spew lots of fallacies about the benefits of eating dead animals but the fact that heart disease kills more Aussies than any other disease shows the link between the two.
    Humans in their natural state would not be eating as much meat as the average person does every day.
    Bottom line is that iron can be obtained from meat but it is not the best source. It would be the same as squeezing an orange in a 2ltr bottle of motor and oil ,drinking the oil and then patting yourself on the back because you now have some vitamin C in your body. Just eat the orange.
    Where do cows get their iron?
    All the exercise in the world will come to nothing if people keep eating the junk they have been eating.
    Want to really healthy? Then, really cut down on meat consumption ,eliminate dairy completely and switch to a plant -based diet.

  • Phil

    @Martin – well said mate. I just read this article and found it very misleading with the haem/non-haem iron comparison and the underlying message that we need meat for the best sources of iron.

    I’ve been been vegan for 10 years now (no meat, dairy or eggs) and get regular checkups at my GP. My Iron levels are fantastic, my cholesterol is very low, and my Calcium/B12/VitaminD levels are also very good. As Martin said, if you want to decrease the risk of degenerative health problems such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes etc, then moving to a plant-based diet is the best thing you can do for your body, the environment, and the animals.

  • Charlotte

    My mothers iron level was a 2 – is this a huge concern?

  • http://HOMO Jonas

    Jeg elsker VOE

  • Gary C.

    I had my blood tested a couple of weeks ago and my doctor said it was about1253 Is that bad,and if so how bad?

  • peter nickless

    How much iron should a 65years active triathlete consume each day? Thanks.

  • Jason

    I eat a paleo diet and have read several books on this matter and No offense but you vegans need to read up on bio chemistry and human evolution, our ancestors ate a meat and fat based diet, plants were eaten ONLY when in season and not year round, this is fact, I eat copious amounts of meat daily and I keep getting stronger and leaner and never felt better because this is the way we are designed to eat, bar none.

  • Eddie

    Jason, just because your forefathers ate meat doesn’t mean we have to. Humans can be either herbivores or carnivores. Meat eaters like you enjoy attacking vegans as it makes you feel better about all the meat you eat. Do you hold any regard for the shocking conditions of our animals in factory farms? Do you even know how the suffering of an animal can affect the taste. Perhaps you are unaware that meat and dairy contain nothing but bad cholesterol. Stop eating it and guess what? You remove all the bad cholesterol from your body. Men like you have not got a clue. Go on, keep eating your meat and continue your risk of heart attacks. Stop contributing to the senseless cruelty to animals too. Wake up Jason!

  • Jason

    Sorry Eddie but that is not correct, while I do not condone the mistreating of animals we still need to eat meat and there are way to many reasons why to list here, Vegans can very easily have high cholesterol because it’s NOT meat that causes high cholesterol, it’s glycogen, bread, fruits, wheat, sugar,etc. promotes insulin resistance and small LDL partical size, like I said I am well educated in this matter and have the textbooks to prove it, including pre med, also the lectin content of chosen foods by most vegans are very very bad news and usually ends in an auto immune deficiatcy

  • Ebony

    Hi, my iron has been very low for the past 2 1/2 wks and it officially got worse New Year’s Eve, I’m dizzy, always tired, shortness of breath from doing the littlest things, my legs & arms have tingling feelings & my heart beat so heard that it seems like its about to beat outta my chest. I haven’t been able to really buy anything with iron in it bcuz of financial reasons, I’m only able to buy Ramen Noodles until this coming Sunday when I can somthing high in Iron. Anyway, i recently bought some Women’s Essential Vitamin (Plus Iron), it has 18 mg of Iron in them but I’m only required to take 1 pill a day as a dietary supplement but I’m still very weak, dizzy, fast heart beats, shortness of breath & tingling sensations in my arms & legs, I don’t really have an appetitie either. I can barely eat anything without feeling full very quick. Is there anything I can do? Cuz I don’t wanna take more vitamins than are required simply bcuz I haven’t any better.Any advice will be helpful! Thanks in advance.

  • amber

    im starting a new weight loss supplement, containing 2mg of iron, also want 2take a womens multivitamin supplement which has 18mg of iron, im concerned that taking both then as the weight loss supplement increases to 3pills a day, may cause problems? I eat three meals a day and often have alot of red meat, im wondering if i should cut my multivitamin in half perhaps? i need some advice

  • Hayley

    @ Jason – lol. You have the text books to prove it. Too bad for you that there are scores of doctors prescribing vegan diets for those with early onset heart disease because of the excessive meat consumption that we have as our ‘cultural norm’. FACTS are that early humans scavenged not unlike vultures and ate bone marrow of creatures who’s bones they could crack, but hunting for meat was not a year round or full dietary option. Like every diet, knowing your facts about dietary requirements and hazards is key. You’re certainly the exception not the rule when it comes to health and eating ‘copious amounts of meat’. It is perfectly possible and in many cases easier to be a healthy vegan compared to a healthy modern day omnivore, and certainly obesity and heart disease stats are living/dying proof of that.

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  • wodiej

    Bottom line on food is moderation in everything. You can eat vegetables all day but that is no guarantee a person will not get sick or get a disease or even have a car accident and get killed. People are too fat and eat too much and don’t exercise enough.

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