In working with children, and with adults, the mineral iron comes up a lot. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the U.S* Iron is critical to human need and needs delicate balance. Although there is a lot of deficiency, having too much iron can be very bad as well.
What does iron do?
Iron is crucial to our red blood cells. It helps in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. It also functions in energy production and metabolism, including DNA synthesis.
What does deficiency seem like?
In children this can be learning and developmental disabilities, including failure to thrive in the very young. The most commonly affected are the very young, women and the elderly. In adults this can be reduced ability in physical ability, and productivity at work, and beyond to anemia.
You will also have impaired oxygen levels, decreased enzyme activity, and impaired immune function.*
Why are so many people and kids deficient?
Inadequate diet is the number one reason that many people and children are deficient. Excessive consumption of cow’s milk can lead to iron deficiency, especially in children. ** Consuming a primarily vegetarian diet, and a vegan diet can also lead to this deficiency.*
Having decreased absorption, which is from digestive issues and distress can lead to this as well. If you are unable to absorb nutrients from your food, as well as co-nutrients for the absorption of iron, due to digestive low acid, or leaky gut, you will not get what you need. If you have suffered from things like chronic diarrhea, or have used antacids, you are also at risk for low iron levels.*
What and how much iron do we need?
There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme. Heme is from animal sources and easily absorbed and used in our bodies. Non-heme is plant-based iron, and less absorbed.
Males need 10 mg of iron daily, females need 15, and the needs vary in children depending on their age. Working with a nutritional therapy practitioner you can learn more about the correct level of iron for yourself, your children, and how to get that into your diet and better absorbed.
3 Ways to Naturally Boost Iron
Fix digestive issues.
This can look like finding the root cause of digestive upset that causes you to take antacids. It could be working on chewing more slowly, taking time to eat to give your stomach acid a chance to work on the food. Low stomach acid is a cause of low iron.
It might also be working on eliminating food sensitivities – and if you aren’t sure if you have them working with an NTP like me can help you find and eliminate those from your diet while adding in nutrient-dense amazing foods to help balance the gut back out. Food sensitivities lead to underlying inflammation and can lead to issues in the small interesting and beyond.
Working on eating more fiber to have better bowel movements. That means MORE plan foods, while you consume the next item coming up. Your diet should be a lot of vegetables and fruits (skin on preferably), and some of the iron rich meats coming right up.
Eat rich sources of iron daily.
The BEST source of iron is meat. Specifically beef, seafood, clams, shrimp, beef liver, chicken and turkey breast.*
These sources are easily absorbed and used by the body. They have the richest levels of iron as well.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, rich non-meat sources include soybeans, lentils, tofu, quinoa, kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, black eyed peas, swiss chard, black beans, turnips, spinach, sesame seeds, figs and more.
The more processed and packaged foods you eliminate the more you can add in these nutrient dense foods and increase your iron levels.
Eliminating things like cow’s milk is also helpful. Many of the foods above have the same nutrients as cow’s milk for your body and will be readily absorbed along with your iron in the whole foods above.
Try adding a probiotic! But not just ANY!
As you work on fixing digestion and increasing consumption of whole foods like those above, you may want to add in a probiotic. The strain l. plantarum 299v is known for helping iron absorption. ***
Most digestive tracks I learn about from clients need more than just that one strain so adding in some other basics for digestive is important. The product below has many helpful strains for iron absorption as well as other digestive imbalances.
The best way to know which probiotic will be maximized for you is to work with someone like myself in nutritional therapy. Each need is a little different.
What about iron supplementation itself?
This is very tricky and should not be done without the help of a physician, and a nutritional therapist. It can be dangerous to have too much iron. It is important to talk with your doctor to get blood work on your iron levels to know exactly how much you need. From there working in nutritional therapy I can help you decide what foods work, and how to get the right probiotics to boost absorption and more. You should never decide how much iron you need without first getting bloodwork and guidance. It’s better to work on digestion and nutrition with probiotics on your own.
Enjoy some lovely eating with these new iron rich suggestions! Have some favorite recipes? Share below!
*- Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray, N.D.