The recommended dietary allowances for iron are 8 mg for men and post-menopausal women, and 18 mg for menstruating women. Iron is an essential mineral that carries oxygen through the blood to every cell in the body. Without adequate iron, oxygen transport is compromised, and muscles, brain, and other cells can't produce energy. This results in fatigue, poor concentration, low exercise tolerance, and shortness of breath that are some of the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency is common. It can result from low dietary intake, poor iron absorption, and/or excessive iron loss (due to heavy menstrual bleeding or intense athletic training).
To maximize your iron intake:
- Enjoy iron rich foods like meat, poultry, fish, beans, peas, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and forified cereals and nutrition bars. Aim for one iron-rich food at every meal.
- Combine vitamin-C rich foods with iron-rich foods to increase iron absorption. This is especially important for vegetarians, since the iron in plant foods is not as easily absorbed. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits and juices, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, and broccoli.
- If you drink coffee or tea, drink them 1-2 hours before/after you eat. Tannins in these foods interfere with iron absorption.
- Women who are menstruating and very active usually benefit from taking an iron supplement. Click here for more information on iron supplements.