Become an Iron Woman (or at least a woman who gets enough iron)

It is really difficult getting enough iron if you’re a woman, one who has her period, and especially if you’re a vegetarian (or infrequent meat-eating) menstruating woman.

Are you still with me?

If you’re a guy and still reading, kudos to you for realising that having your woman well ironized is good for everyone.

I bet this guy is into iron absorption

Iron deficiency is actually the top nutritional disorder in the entire world and it tends to affect women and children more than others.

What is anemia?  It’s when the red blood cell count is low and since red blood cells carry oxygen around the body it can cause a host of symptoms such as:

  • Easy fatigue and loss of energy
  • Unusually rapid heart beat, particularly with exercise
  • Shortness of breath and headache, particularly with exercise
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Leg cramps
  • Insomnia

There are two main factors that contribute to having reduced iron stores: 1.) losing blood (aka the link to menstruation),  and 2.) not producing enough red blood cells.

Since we can’t really do anything about having a period, let’s look at dietary reasons why some of us don’t produce enough red blood cells.

DIET:  red blood cells need iron, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin C, and copper.  Not getting enough of iron, folate, and B12 are usually the major culprits to iron deficiency.

In terms of diet, the most absorbable form or iron is called “heme iron” which comes from animal protein.  It’s true that you can get iron from vegetarian sources, but you should know that it’s much harder for your body to absorb.  Vitamin B12 is also most common in animal protein – another reason why vegetarians struggle so much.

How much iron do I need?

If you are a meat-eating woman, you need around 18 mg’s or 27 mg’s if you’re pregnant.

If you’re a vegetarian women, you need around 33 mg’s per day.

Men, you’re cool with about 14 mg’s.

What are some non animal sources of iron?

Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 8.8
Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp 7.2
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 6.6
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 6.4
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 6.3
Tofu 4 ounces 6.0
Bagel, enriched 3 ounces 5.2
Tempeh 1 cup 4.8
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 4.4
Swiss chard, cooked 1 cup 4.0
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 3.6
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 3.5
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 3.2
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 3.2
Potato 1 large 3.2
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 3.0
Prune juice 8 ounces 3.0
Beet greens, cooked 1 cup 2.7
Tahini 2 Tbsp 2.7
Veggie hot dog 1 hot dog 2.7
Peas, cooked 1 cup 2.5
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 2.3
Cashews 1/4 cup 2.1
Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup 1.9
Bok choy, cooked 1 cup 1.8
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 1.7
Raisins 1/2 cup 1.6
Almonds 1/4 cup 1.5
Apricots, dried 15 halves 1.4
Veggie burger, commercial 1 patty 1.4
Watermelon 1/8 medium 1.4
Soy yogurt 6 ounces 1.1
Tomato juice 8 ounces 1.0
Green beans, cooked 1 cup 1.2
Kale, cooked 1 cup 1.2
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 1.2
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 1.1
Millet, cooked 1 cup 1.1
Sesame seeds 2 Tbsp 1.0

How can I improve iron absorption?

Make sure you consume the foods above with a source of vitamin C in order to optimize absorption.  Foods high in vitamin C include: broccoli, red peppers, strawberries, dark leafy greens (think kale and mustard greens), cauliflower, kiwis, and oranges.

Also, avoid consuming caffeine when eating foods with iron.

What about the other major players in red blood cell creation?

You need to make a concerted effort to eat enough folate and B12.  Here’s how.

B12:  we need around 2.4 mg’s per day.  The best way to get it is from animal sources like eggs, milk, cheese, milk products, meat, fish, shellfish and poultry.  If you don’t eat meat, look for fortified cereals and beverages (soy/rice/almond milk etc).  There is also a product on the market called Red Star Nutritional Yeast (can be found at health food stores) which is an excellent source of vitamin B12.

Folate: excellent sources of folate include; dark leafy greens, asparagus, beets, cauliflower, squash, lentils, bell peppers, sea vegetables, celery, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, most types of beans, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and green peas.

Last but not least, if you suspect that you’re iron deficient consider asking your doctor (medical or naturopathic) to do a blood test.  There are a bunch of supplements (normally they are about 25-30 mg’s per capsule) on the market that can really help you get your stores up.  They can be tough on the digestive system and often cause constipation so it’s worth researching to find a good quality one.  Also, just like food sources, taking your supplement with vitamin C rich foods or even 1000 mg’s of a vitamin C supplement can boost the absorption.  I’ve been anemic for years and only recently got it under control – I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to have more energy and less dizziness!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

– Dalai Lama XIV


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10 thoughts on “Become an Iron Woman (or at least a woman who gets enough iron)

  1. This is a great, informative article. I’ve always had low iron (so much that at one point I wasn’t allowed to give blood). it’s important to be aware of what extra nutrients our unique bodies need and adjust accordingly. I would love a pdf of the list of iron rich food, if you have it.

    • I’ve never seen a B12 spray, but that sounds coo! I like that it’s combined with Vit D too since all Canadians should be supplementing between 400 – 1000 IU/vit D per day.

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