How Iron Deficiency May be Affecting You -- Plus Top 6 Best Plant-based Sources

Blog Nutrition & Recipes How Iron Deficiency May be Affecting You -- Plus Top 6 Best Plant-based Sources

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2.14.2024 0 comments

Here’s a scary fact for you: according to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world [1].

It’s estimated that as many as 30% of the world’s population are iron-deficient. Read that again: 30% of the world’s population. That’s more than 2 billion people suffering from a lack of iron!

It won’t surprise you to learn that iron is incredibly important for a healthy body, so an iron deficiency can be seriously detrimental to your health—not just in the long-term, but in the short-term, too.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into what iron does for your body, what roles it plays, and what happens when you don’t get enough.

But don’t worry: we’ll also give you a list of the best iron-rich foods you can add to your diet to make sure you’re not among that 30% of the global population lacking iron!

Iron and Your Body

Iron’s most important function is the production of hemoglobin, a protein that is critical for red blood cells [2].

Red blood cells are responsible for the transportation of both oxygen (from your lungs) and nutrients (from your digestive tract). When you consume iron-rich foods, you give your body the nutrients it needs to produce enough the hemoglobin necessary to manufacture sufficient red blood cells.

But when you don’t get enough iron, your body can’t produce enough red blood cells. That’s when the problems begin to set in, and those problems can become very apparent—not to mention very dangerous.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

In the short-term, iron deficiency may not be noticeable. The average person has a great deal of iron stored in their body—in their bone marrow, lungs, spleen, and liver—so in the absence of iron absorbed via your food, your body simply taps into those iron stores.

But the longer your iron deficiency lasts, the greater the threat to your body. Your body is forced to continually draw more iron from its critical stores—your very important organs and bone marrow—which steadily depletes the iron until there is very little left.

That’s when the problems begin to crop up…

When levels of iron drop to very low levels, and there’s no more in your body to tap into, you develop what is called “iron deficiency anemia”.

With iron deficiency anemia, your red blood cells begin to shrink and will contain less of the hemoglobin protein produced by iron. With smaller red blood cells, your body is less effective at transporting nutrients and oxygen where it needs to go.

Over time, the lack of oxygen and nutrients can impair your body function at large. You may begin to notice other symptoms, such as [3]:

  • GI tract problems

  • Fatigue and tiredness

  • Weakness

  • Concentration and memory problems

  • Lack of energy

  • Susceptibility to infections, inability to fight off disease

  • Inability of your body to regulate your body temperature

As you recall, around 30% of the world’s population is iron-deficient. That means you’ve got a pretty high chance to be iron-deficient, too, especially if you’re not focusing on consuming iron-rich foods.

According to the US Government [4], there are certain groups of people more prone to developing iron deficiency, including:

  • Infants, particularly premature infants or infants born with a low birth weight

  • Pregnant women

  • Teenaged girls and women who experience heavy periods

  • People who frequently donate blood

  • People suffering from heart failure, GI disorders, or cancer

If you fall into any of these categories, you might be at risk of iron deficiency—which means in the long-term, you might develop the iron deficiency anemia symptoms listed above.

The daily recommended amount for iron is [4]:

  • 27 mg for pregnant women

  • 18 mg for women

  • 8 mg for men

  • 11 mg for adolescent males (aged 14-18)

  • 15 mg for adolescent females (aged 14-18)

  • 27 mg for pregnant adolescent females (aged 14-18)

  • 8 mg for women over the age of 51

The good news is that getting this amount of iron is actually a fairly simple prospect: you just need to eat more iron-rich foods.

Mother Nature has provided plenty of plant-based solutions to fuel your body with the iron it needs to produce hemoglobin and keep your red blood cells transporting oxygen and nutrients at maximum efficiency.

The 6 Best Iron-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet

The National Health Services recommend the following foods as great sources of iron [5]:

Legumes – Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are packed with iron. Lentils contain the most, around 6.6 mg per serving. That’s most of what the average man needs per day, and more than 1/3 of what the average woman needs every day. Beans contain less—black beans contain 3.6 mg per one-cup serving—but they’re still a great source of iron. You can also get protein, potassium, magnesium, folate, and a lot of dietary fiber from beans, all of which are crucial for the healthy functioning of your body.

Quinoa – Quinoa is an ancient grain, one of the healthiest and most nutrient-rich of the whole grains on the planet. Each 1-cup serving contains 2.8 mg of iron, along with magnesium, manganese, copper, and folate. Quinoa also contains the highest antioxidant content of any whole grain, which can protect your body from free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, and combat aging. As a bonus, it’s also gluten-free, making it safe for those with gluten allergies or intolerances to eat.

Spinach – Spinach is one of the best plant-based sources of iron. Each 100-gram serving contains around 2.7 milligrams of iron, along with plenty of Vitamin C (which helps your body to absorb more iron from the food you eat). In addition, spinach is also loaded with calcium, anti-inflammatory compounds, and folic acid (necessary for pregnant women). It also has carotenoids, which can protect your eyes from degeneration and reduce cancer risk.

Broccoli – Like spinach, broccoli is a dark green veggie that is packed with iron. Each serving (1 cup) contains roughly 1 mg of iron, but very importantly, it’s also loaded with Vitamin C so your body can absorb the iron more efficiently. Broccoli also delivers folate, Vitamin K, and a lot of dietary fiber. It’s even rich in sulforaphane, indole, and glucosinolate, plant compounds that may help to fight or protect against cancer.

Pumpkin Seeds – Pumpkin seeds contain around 2.5 mg of iron per 1-ounce serving. Adding them into your salads, desserts, and yoghurts is an excellent and easy way to increase your intake of iron, along with Vitamin K, manganese, zinc, and magnesium.

Dark Chocolate – Dark chocolate is so much more than just a tasty treat; it’s also packed with an impressive 3.4 mg of iron per 1-ounce serving. Eating just one small square of chocolate per day can do your body wonders, providing you with a dose of iron critical for the production of red blood cells. You’ll also get magnesium, copper, prebiotic fiber, and massive amounts of antioxidants. Definitely a good reason to add more chocolate to your daily diet.

Wrapping Up

Iron is one of the most important minerals for a healthy, efficiently functioning body, for the simple reason that it’s what your body needs to produce the red blood cells that transport oxygen and nutrients.

As you’ve seen above, a lack of iron can have some pretty serious long-term consequences—and though you may not notice issues as visibly in the short-term, they are very much there.

It’s imperative that you eat enough iron-rich food every day to ensure you’re giving your body enough of this critical mineral. A few additions or alterations to your diet will be more than enough to ensure you’re not falling into the category of that 30% of iron-deficient people in the world!








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