Our Guide to Getting Enough Iron, Part 1: Why Healthy Iron Levels are Important
There’s no doubt that iron is one of the most important minerals for our body. It helps your body transport oxygen from your lungs to everywhere else while enabling your muscles to perform their best and reduce recovery time after doing intense exercises. Your hemoglobins take up almost two-thirds of the iron in your body, which is why you’ll need to stretch or run for a bit to wake you up and make you feel rejuvenated. Increasing your blood flow delivers oxygen to the rest of your body more efficiently, which naturally translates to increased energy.
The most common sources of iron include red meat, poultry, pork, and seafood. Luckily for vegans, it is also present in beans, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and many other kinds of food. Due to the importance of the mineral, you may be wondering if you’re getting enough iron in your diet. Here’s what you need to know about it:
Analyzing Your Diet
Checking your diet will give you a good idea of how much iron you’re getting. However, the optimal level of iron you’ll need to intake depends on your age, sex, and genetics. For instance, women aged 19 to 50 need at least 18 mg of iron to enjoy a healthy menstrual cycle. On the other hand, men need only 8 mg. After menopause, women’s requirements for iron drop significantly, requiring 8 mg a day as well.
However, it’s important to note that adults shouldn’t take more than 45 mg of iron a day, as the body cannot eliminate it even when it reaches toxic levels. If you have an excess of iron in your body, your organs will have difficulty processing it. Luckily, it’s very difficult to overdose on iron strictly from food sources. Still, low iron levels are widespread in North America, so it pays to check your iron intake.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
There are a few signs to watch out for that indicate an iron deficiency. These include lethargy, physical weakness, cold hands and feet, and shortness of breath. Some are generic and can overlap with other health issues, but it’s best to have a blood test. Other symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, a sore tongue, pale skin, difficulty swallowing, brittle and spoon-shaped nails, hair loss, and sores on the corners of your mouth. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to treat an iron deficiency by eating an iron-rich diet or consulting your doctor.
The Causes of Low Iron
Apart from a diet lacking in iron, other factors contribute to lower iron levels, such as anemia. People with anemia have a lower red blood cell count caused by blood loss, a lack of red cell production, or the body’s destruction of blood cells en masse. Since iron makes up two-thirds of red blood cells, those with anemia must take more iron to compensate for the deficiency and maintain healthy iron levels for their body.
Still, it’s worth noting that anemia and having low iron are different. Anemic individuals don’t always have an iron deficiency, but they always have a low hemoglobin count. Some people have low iron levels because their bodies struggle to absorb the mineral due to intestinal or gastric-related issues.
Getting Enough Iron Without Eating Meat
For many years, American food and nutrition institutions have promoted meat as the best and most efficient source of iron. This recommendation has left vegans scrambling for other ways to meet their iron requirements.
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes from hemoglobin, which is found abundantly in beef, chicken, and other animals. Most of the iron people consume, whether vegan or otherwise, is non-heme, leading to the belief that a vegan diet cannot provide healthy iron levels without resorting to consuming animal products.
Fortunately, science and technology have clarified many misconceptions surrounding this, which means that supporting healthy iron levels is accessible to everyone. For instance, dried sea moss is an excellent source of iron, containing 9 milligrams of iron per 100 grams. That means it has more iron than chicken!
Getting enough iron in your diet can be a challenge. However, it’s crucial to achieve optimal iron levels to support your body’s various functions and keep it working as optimally as possible. Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll talk more about vegan sources of iron!
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