Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Iron is a mineral required to make red blood cells that deliver oxygen all around the body, including your brain and muscles. Iron is essential for growing infants and children for optimal growth and development - chronic iron deficiency in childhood has actually been linked to a lowered IQ! Most children and adults should be able to get enough iron in their diet without needing an iron supplement.
Those at risk for iron deficiency include those with:
heavy menstrual bleeding
inadequate iron intake
internal bleeding (for example: stomach ulcer)
frequent blood donations
high performance athletes (especially runners)
malabsorption issues (for example: celiac disease)
Iron deficiency can lead to anemia (a lack of those red blood cells) and can also cause symptoms such as: fatigue, weakness, pale skin, headache, dizziness/lightheadedness, irritability, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep, and poor appetite in adults. Infants and children with iron deficiency may additionally exhibit fussiness, short attention spans, slow growth, as well as delayed development of milestones like walking and talking. Click here to read our blog post all about why you should not assume iron is to blame for your fatigue!
Iron deficiency can only be diagnosed via bloodwork, so if you think you or your child may be iron deficient - book a visit with your primary healthcare provider! To treat a confirmed iron deficiency, you will have to take an iron supplement - but make sure to check with your dietitian about what type and amount of iron supplement is right for you! Click here to view some of our favourite iron supplements.
To prevent iron deficiency, focus on increasing your iron intake. Here are 3 easy ways:
1. Have an iron-rich food at every meal.
There are 2 types of iron in food: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the type of iron found in animal flesh, such as in meat, poultry, and fish/seafood. This type of iron is very well absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron is found in eggs and plant-based foods, such as: soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk), legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts and seeds (and their butters), and leafy greens (spinach, kale, beet greens). There's even some iron in blackstrap molasses and vegemite/marmite! Non-heme iron is not as well absorbed by the body, this is why vegetarians and vegans need twice as much iron from food as animal-eaters do.
2. Pair plant-based food sources of iron with a food source of vitamin C.
You can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron by the body by pairing it with a source of vitamin C. For example, stir fry tofu (non-heme iron) with bell peppers (vitamin C), have some sliced strawberries (vitamin C) on your spinach salad (non-heme iron), or have a side of orange slices (vitamin C) with your dal/lentil curry (non-heme iron). Avoid dairy products, calcium supplements, coffee, black tea, and red wine with your non-heme iron meals as these can inhibit absorption of non-heme iron.
3. Cook with iron.
Cooking with iron can actually increase the iron content of your food! Like non-heme iron, vitamin C can help release some of the iron from your iron cookware. If you have a cast iron pan, use it to cook your tomato sauce, soups, or other foods to increase their iron content. If you don't have a cast iron pan, try cooking with an iron ingot. This iron ingot can be used to infuse drinking water or used for cooking food. The best part? The company donates to an international family in need for every purchase made!