Generally speaking, women are smaller than men. As a result, our nutritional requirements—from protein, carbs, and fats to vitamins and minerals—are often less than our male counterparts.
But not when it comes to iron: We often need more iron than men.
Women need 18mg of iron each day, and most of us don’t pay attention to this until we’re chronically tired and discover we’re deficient in iron. If we become too anemic—meaning our red blood cells become low in hemoglobin—sometimes a blood transfusion is required. If our levels of hemoglobin are less than 12g/dL, we are considered anemic.
Other than feeling tired, other symptoms of low iron include fatigue and a loss of energy, shortness of breath, dizziness, leg cramps, insomnia, and an unusually fast heartbeat, especially when we’re working out.
The statistics say this: Almost 50 percent of women, and three-quarters of teenaged females, aren’t getting enough iron from our food because it’s actually quite hard to get that much iron from our food alone.
Spinach, for example, is a good source of iron and has 2.71mg of iron per 100 grams of spinach. But really, are you eating 700g of spinach a day? That’s one giant salad!
Similarly, beef has 2.4mg of iron per 100 grams of beef. This is equivalent to a 750g steak, which is nearly two pounds of beef.
Further, there are times in our lives where iron becomes even more important than others, such as during menstruation and pregnancy.
Some women lose as much as 1mg of iron each day during their period, meaning you could lose as many as 5 to 7mg of iron each month. And when you’re pregnant, you need iron not just for yourself, but also for your growing baby, and the iron you’re providing your fetus needs to last them for six months after you give birth. During this time, you actually need 27mg of iron a day, as opposed to the generally recommended 18mg.
Raw Diet or Iron Supplement?
If you’re worried you’re not getting enough iron from your food, an iron supplement is probably a good one for you. And there are reasons beyond just getting that required 18mg of iron to supplement—it might make your menstruation days easier because iron helps produce melatonin, and melatonin is helpful for reducing cramping, bloating, and even mood swings.
For some women, however, it might be a better option to rely on whole foods in their diet in order to get enough iron, as many do report side effects from taking iron supplements, such as digestion and bowel issues, as well as nausea.
If you want to do it the natural way, here are some whole foods that are especially high in iron, beyond just spinach and steak:
- Shellfish: Clams, oysters and mussels are especially high in iron. For example, a 100g serving of clams has about 28mg of iron.
- Organ meats: Although it might not sound appealing, there is tons of iron in most organ meats, such as liver, kidneys, and hearts. For example, 100g of beef liver has 6.5mg of iron. Organ meat is also high in B vitamins and vitamin A, which is another important factor for keeping your iron levels up (more on this in a moment).
- Pumpkin seeds: If you can’t stomach consuming liver or clams, pumpkin seeds are another great source of iron. 1 ounce (or 28 grams) of pumpkin seeds has 4.2mg of iron.
- Turkey: Not only is dark meat tastier than the white meat (in my opinion), it’s also higher in iron. 100 grams of dark turkey meat has 2.3mg of iron.
- Broccoli: Though not as high as some of the other food sources, one cup of cooked broccoli has 1mg of iron, and it also has vitamins needed to help you absorb iron.
Other Vitamins and Minerals to Consider
Vitamin B, B12, vitamin C, and folic acid are all involved in producing hemoglobin, particularly folate acid. Your body uses folate to produce heme—part of hemoglobin. Some foods high in folic acid include leafy greens and beans, eggs, and citrus fruits.
Meanwhile, foods high in the B vitamins include red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leafy greens. Plenty of vitamin C can be found in broccoli, cauliflower, green and red peppers, strawberries, lemons, tomatoes, and squash.
Even if you’re getting enough iron, if you’re not absorbing it you still have a problem.
Vitamin A and beta-carotene can help you absorb iron. Some foods high in vitamin A are fish, liver, sweet potatoes, and squash, while foods high in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash.
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