Getting Enough Iron in Your Diet
Iron is a natural mineral present in many foods. Iron is also added to many food products, and is also included in multi-vitamins and as a dietary supplement. According to the National Institute of Health
Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, an erythrocyte protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues 
. As a component of myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles, iron supports metabolism. Iron is also necessary for growth, development, normal cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones and connective tissue. National Institute for Health
Anemia in the U.S. is uncommon but not unheard of, and in seniors “unexplained anemia” is not uncommon in adults over 65 years of age. People more susceptible to anemia include children and infants, pregnant women, individuals with liver or blood disorders, frequent blood donors, people with intestinal or colon disease and those with cancer.
It is uncommon for adults to suffer from too much iron but taking more than 20 mg/kg iron from supplements or medicines can cause stomach upset, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, or faintness. Iron is best taken with a meal and not on an empty stomach.
Symptoms of Anemia
The signs and symptoms of anemia are subtle and can be easily confused with other health problems both minor and serious. A simple blood test can identify if you are anemic. Be sure to consult with your doctor before adding supplements into your diet as they may need to be taken with a meal or on an empty stomach. Some supplements conflict with medications and other supplements, so be sure to check with your doctor or naturopath.
Symptoms of anemia may include:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
As you can see, symptoms are not enough to determine if you are anemic, so ask your doctor about a blood test. In the meantime, you can add some of the delicious foods below that will naturally increase your levels of iron.
I’ve prepared a list of high iron foods that are suitable for everyone including those on low sugar, low glycemic and diabetic diets. With the exception of the dried apricots which are higher in sugar, but also high in iron, most are not going to dramatically raise your blood sugar when recommended portions are followed.
Food high in Iron (8-10 mg a serving)
- Dried Apricots
- Apple Sauce
- Beans (white)
- Beet greens (cooked)
- Beets (cooked)
- Kimchi (cabbage based)
- Chard or Spinach (cooked)
- Dark Chocolate
- Chickpeas (aka Garbanzo beans)
I know, the title of this post sounds pretty melodramatic. I’m not denying that, but still. Here were my symptoms. Exhaustion, fatigue, waking up tired, hair falling out, frequent wakefulness at night despite feeling worn out. As a freelance online web developer I work from home, so my bed is accessible when I’m at work.
I’m a morning person, that’s when my energy and productivity are at their peak. That’s been true for me since I was a child. Wake up early (not so early anymore), jump out of bed and get to it. However since the transition to the The Great Northwest, my morning energy levels drop and by around 1:00 pm, I found myself climbing under the covers feeling drained. This went on for weeks, more than four, until I got so freaked out I went to the doctor for a check-up. A blood test came showing my Vitamin D levels below the lowest number on the chart which is 30. My number was 8! Holy Balogne!
My doctor said to take 5,000 mg a day for a week or so. Vitamin D doesn’t build up in your system to even though that seems really high, it’s ok. She said to ramp down to 2,000 mg a day after that. And don’t let me leave out I’m talking about Vitamin D3 specifically. I looked up more information about Vitamin D at the National Institutes of Health which says:
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone and to prevent hypocalcemic tetany. It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts [1,2]. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D sufficiency prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults . Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.
It took less than 48 hours to feel my energetic normal self again. In fact I realized I had forgotten what having energy felt like and normal felt miraculous! I wasn’t like a machine, speeding around but I did have energy for all the little tasks and puttering I had been wanting to get to but had been putting off because I was too tired!
So here’s the deal with Vitamin D and the Sun.
Yes you can get Vitamin D from the sun, but likely not enough to really have optimum levels. Indigenous peoples lived mostly outside, I’m guessing you don’t. I don’t! And when I do go outside in the glorious sun I’m covered with sunscreen to prevent cancer and covered up and wearing a hat. I’m still not going to get the levels I need by being in the sun. 1,000 mg twice a day is now a regular daily supplement and what a difference it makes. You can get Vitamin D in pill, capsule and chewable form. If you take the capsules or pills take it with a meal because it may or may not upset your stomach. I find I can take the chewable form anytime without tummy problems.
Talk with your doctor as always before starting any new supplements. Your multivitamin probably doesn’t have more than 400-800 mg a day which for most of us isn’t enough. It may be enough to prevent death, but not enough to get you feeling like your energetic self again.
I wanted to share this with you because I just didn’t believe it could make the difference it has to boost my Vitamin D levels but numbers don’t lie. My most recent blood test showed my levels up to 29, still not over the lowest number but very close. Next time for sure!