Iron is an important mineral required in the body for various functions. The dietary requirement for iron is higher in women than in men. This mineral is essential for the normal functioning of red blood cells in the body.
Inside the red blood cells, iron is required for hemoglobin to become functional in the body. Hemoglobin is a protein present inside red blood cells and helps transport oxygen from the lungs to various organs.
This molecule is responsible for the characteristic red color of blood. Iron also plays an important role in the synthesis of various hormones in the body.
How much iron is required by women?
Teenage girls need 15 mg daily. This is higher in girls than in boys due to blood loss during menstruation. Similarly, for women between 19 and 50 years of age, the requirement is 18 mg per day.
During pregnancy, 27 mg of this mineral is required to support the fetus. During lactation, the requirement goes down to 9-10 mg, as there’s no menstruation during lactation due to the dominant presence of the prolactin hormone in the body.
What happens when there’s iron deficiency?
This mineral deficiency in women can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which is characterized by an inadequate number of healthy red blood cells in the body.
As hemoglobin is unable to function properly, the amount of oxygen reaching each organ also decreases. In this situation, women lacking iron may feel tired and fatigued all the time.
The common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are listed below:
- Higher pulse rate
- Brittle nails
- Lack of appetite
- Pale skin
There are other rare occurring symptoms of anemia that require urgent medical attention.
What causes iron deficiency?
Anemia in women can occur due to various reasons. It commonly occurs due to loss of blood during menstruation or inadequate consumption of iron-rich foods in the diet.
Vegetarians and vegans are often found to be deficient in this mineral, as plant sources often cannot provide bioavailable minerals to the body. Meanwhile, animal-origin foods such as fresh meat, fish, and poultry can provide bioavailable heme-iron. People who consume these foods are less susceptible to anemia.
Which foods can prevent iron deficiency?
The following foods can reduce symptoms of iron deficiency. It has to be kept in mind that the animal-origin foods mentioned in the list below are rich in highly bioavailable heme-iron and are more effective than plant-based sources.
Here are some of the best iron-rich foods to look for:
1) Red meat
Meat is a rich source of heme-iron when consumed in its unprocessed form. It contains most of the essential vitamins and minerals. They also contain good fats.
2) Organ meat
Organ meat is more nutrient dense than regular meat. Common organ meats consumed around the world are the liver, spleen, heart, and pancreas. Spleen and liver are extremely rich in heme-iron and are ideal for people suffering from anemia.
3) Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in many minerals, zx cacao (cocoa) nuts, are nutritious fruits. They are loved by many and popular around the world.
Dark chocolate is also rich in dietary fiber, which is beneficial for the gut. It’s also known to have weight loss properties. It’s best to consume dark chocolate without sugar for the best results.
Quinoa is a grain that contains minerals and vitamins like iron, folate, magnesium, copper, manganese, etc. It’s a gluten-free grain that’s also rich in antioxidants.
Anemia can be managed and avoided by following a diet that includes various iron-rich foods. It has to be kept in mind that not all foods provide minerals in the same quantity and bioavailability.
Heme-iron present in animal-origin foods is often the better choice for most people. Vegans and vegetarians can obtain their share of this mineral from supplements available widely.
Such supplementation should only be done with proper advice from a health professional. Necessary tests are required to be done under the prescription of a doctor to find out the levels of iron and the severity of anemia. Severe deficiency symptoms and anemia must be treated and managed under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner.
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