Are You An Iron Woman?
In the movies, Iron Man is a superhero who relies on technology for his superpowers. In real life, iron is an essential mineral that’s crucial for one of the body’s most fundamental functions: the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the cells. Without oxygen, there’s no energy production.
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. It affects children and women most often. Women of reproductive age are especially vulnerable to this form of anemia. Women need far more dietary iron than men, girls, or boys. It’s especially important for women to get plenty of this nutrient from their food. Iron is difficult for the body to absorb, though, so it’s also important to get adequate amounts of folate, protein, and vitamin C. All of these nutrients aid in the absorption of dietary iron.
Girls 9-13 years of age should aim to get at least 8 milligrams daily.
Girls 14-18 years of age need slightly more: 15 mg/day.
Women aged 19-50 need more still: 18 mg/day.
During pregnancy, the RDA for iron is 27 mg/day.
After menopause, older women can safely cut back to 8 mg/day.
Pregnant women who maintain adequate iron intake can expect a decreased risk of preterm delivery. Their infants will also be less likely to suffer from low iron stores and/or impaired cognitive or behavioral development. Even women who are not pregnant will benefit from adequate iron status, though. Healthy dietary iron levels are linked to greater energy and stamina and better athletic performance.
In contrats, symptoms of low iron may include lack of mental focus, lethargy, irritability, and a weakened immune system. Women with advanced anemia may experience a profound lack of energy, making even the act of getting out of bed seem insurmountable. Although supplements, including multivitamins, may provide iron, it’s always best to get any essential nutrient from whole foods. So what are the best sources?
Most people think of red meat when they think of iron, but top honors go to clams. Just three ounces provide about 24 mg iron; more than the daily requirement for a healthy woman. For comparison, the same amount of ground beef contains just 3 mg iron. Other good choices include fortified cereals, white beans, dark chocolate, cooked oysters, spinach, blueberries, lentils, chickpeas, and firm tofu.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Nutrition for Everyone. Iron and Iron Deficiency. Retrieved Jan. 4, 2015 from: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/iron.html
Pirkko Peuranpää, Satu Heliövaara-Peippo, Ian Fraser, Jorma Paavonen And Ritva Hurskainen. Effects of Anemia and Iron Deficiency on Quality of Life in Women With Heavy Menstrual Bleeding. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, June 2014 DOI: 10.1111/aogs.12394
Rebecca J. Schmidt et al. Maternal intake of supplemental iron and risk for autism spectrum disorders. American Journal of Epidemiology, September 2014.