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Even if you are careful with your diet and try to eat a variety of foods, it’s possible that you could be low on some nutrients, such as iron. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, especially for toddlers, teenage girls, and adult women. (13) If you’re low on iron, there are some symptoms to look out for and some foods that you should definitely add to your diet.

What Is Iron Deficiency?

Iron is critical for the production of hemoglobin, the substance that gives red blood cells their red color and helps them carry oxygen throughout your body. When you don’t eat enough iron or you lose too much, your body struggles to produce hemoglobin and you might develop many health conditions, including anemia. (14)

Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency

1. Exhaustion

You’re exhausted from the minute you wake up to the second you get to crawl into bed. This can be the easiest sign to miss because your day might be very busy and demanding and you might think that’s the cause of your tiredness. You might be tired because less iron in your blood means that less oxygen moves around and you don’t get enough energy. (14, 17)

2. Breathlessness

If you’re breathless during things that normally don’t take a lot of energy, you might have a lack of iron in your blood and you pant more frequently to supply your body with oxygen. (14, 17)

3. Weight Gain

Unexplained weight gain can be caused by an underactive thyroid, which may be caused by iron deficiency. (12)

4. Restlessness

Research proves that iron deficiency might cause restless leg syndrome. A study found that participants with restless leg syndrome had lower ferritin, a blood cell protein that contains iron, than the participants who did not have this syndrome. The study also found that restlessness increased as ferritin levels decreased. (15)

5. Paleness

A lack of color in your cheeks, lips, gums, and inside your eyelids might indicate that you lack iron. (14, 17)

6. Poor Mental Health

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Studies have found that iron deficiency might be linked to mental health issues in children such as poor cognition, anxiety, depression, and social and attention problems. (11)

7. Hair Loss

Research hasn’t found a clear association between iron deficiency and hair loss, but it’s possible that the two might be linked. More than 5,000 women between the ages of 35 and 60 recorded their hair loss for a study. Among the women who experienced excessive hair loss, more than half also had low iron. (10)

8. Meat-Free Diet

If meat is your only source of iron, you might not know which plant foods are a good source of iron. When you transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet without knowing that information, your iron levels might drop. (14)

9. Fragile Nails

Nails that are brittle, have serious ridge lines, fracture easily, and rip off or flake can be a sign of iron deficiency. (14)

10. Tongue Pain

If your tongue feels sore, it could be a lack of iron. A study found that iron deficient participants had increasing pain in their tongue and experienced abnormalities in their taste buds as their deficiency progressed to anemia. (16)

11. Unusual Cravings

Iron deficiency may cause a disorder called ‘pica,’ which makes you crave non-food items such as chalk, dirt, clay, or ice. (17)

How To Get Enough Iron From Your Diet

It’s simple to prevent iron deficiency by adding more iron-rich foods to your diet. There are a handful of veggies, nuts, and legumes that can cover your iron needs. (Yes, vegetarians and vegans can get all the iron they need without eating meat!)

1. Spinach

9.21 mg per bunch (340 g) (4)

Green leafy vegetables are the healthiest foods you can eat, but sometimes you’re not sure how to incorporate them into your diet. This recipe will show you how to cook leafy greens to improve their taste and make sure you eat enough every day.

2. Morel Mushrooms

8.04 mg per cup (3)

If you’re not a mushroom fan, maybe you should reconsider, because morel mushrooms are not just bursting with iron, but they’re also full of vitamin D.

3. Lentils

6.59 mg per 1 cup (8)

Lentils are not just one of the best sources of iron, they’re also a powerhouse of nutrients. It’s easy to add lentils in salads, chili, and soups for extra nutrition and to make them more filling.

4. Dried Apricots

3.46 mg per cup of halves (1)

Dried fruit are quick and tasty snacks, but be sure to check the ingredients for added sugars and preservatives.

5. Asparagus

2.87 mg per cup (2)

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Asparagus is very versatile, so you can steam, grill, and fry it, and even make soups and curries with it.

6. Spirulina

2 mg per tablespoon (5)

Spirulina might not taste great, but it’s packed with many health benefits, so it’s worth dropping a tablespoon in your morning smoothie for your iron needs.

7. Sesame seeds

1.31 mg per tablespoon (7)

You can add sesame seeds in any salad, put them in stir fries, and sprinkle some on your toast spread. You can also eat tahini, which comes from sesame seeds, as a salad dressing or as an ingredient in hummus.

8. Raw, yellow beans

1 mg per ½ cup (6)

Apart from being a source of iron, yellow beans and other yellow foods can help you if you feel burnt out or have too much stress.

9. Falafel

0.58 mg per patty (9)

Falafel is a great ingredient for burgers and sandwiches if you want to substitute meat.

Start incorporating these foods into your diet today to replenish the iron in your body and protect yourself and family from a potential deficiency.

Read More

  1. Think you might be iron deficient? Make sure to NEVER take iron supplements like this!
  2. 21 Signs of Iron Deficiency That Every Woman Needs to Know About
  3. Start eating more iron right away if you experience any of these 10 signs of anemia

(1) Basic Report:  09032, Apricots, dried, sulfured, uncooked. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

(2) Basic Report:  11011, Asparagus, raw. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

(3) Basic Report:  11240, Mushrooms, morel, raw. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

(4) Basic Report:  11457, Spinach, raw. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

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(5) Basic Report:  11667, Seaweed, spirulina, dried. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture. =

(6) Basic Report:  11722, Beans, snap, yellow, raw. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

(7) Basic Report:  12023, Seeds, sesame seeds, whole, dried. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

(8) Basic Report:  16070, Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

(9) Basic Report:  16138, Falafel, home-prepared. (2016, May). In United States Department of Agriculture.

(10) Deloche, C., Bastien, P., Chadoutaud, S., Galan, P., Bertrais, S., Hercberg, S. & de Lacharrière, O. (2007). Low iron stores: a risk factor for excessive hair loss in non-menopausal women. European Journal of Dermatology, 17(6), 507-512.

(11) Grantham-McGregor, S. & Ani, C. (2001). A Review of Studies on the Effect of Iron Deficiency on Cognitive Development in Children. The Journal of Nutrition, 131(2) 649S-668S.

(12) Hess, S. Y., Zimmermann, M. B., Arnold, M., Langhans, W., & Hurrell, R. F. (2002). Iron Deficiency Anemia Reduces Thyroid Peroxidase Activity in Rats. The Journal of Nutrition, 132(7), 1951-1955.

(13) Iron Deficiency — United States, 1999–2000. (2002, October 11). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report51, 897-899.

(14) Iron deficiency anemia. (2016, November 11). In Mayo Clinic.

(15) O’Keeffe, S. T., Gavin, K., & Lavan, J. N. (1994). Iron Status and Restless Legs Syndrome in the Elderly. Age and Ageing, 2(3), 200-203.

(16) Osaki, T., Ueta, E., Arisawa, K., Kitamura, Y., & Matsugi, N. (1999). The Pathophysiology of Glossal Pain in Patients with Iron Deficiency and Anemia. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 318(5), 324-329.

(17) Symptoms. (n.d.) In WebMD.

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