Iron helps your body to make hemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body and give your blood its deep red color. Hematocrit and hemoglobin tests measure the amount of red blood cells in your blood that carry oxygen. It is ideal for your hematocrit level to be at least 38 percent and the hemoglobin value to be at least 12.5 g/dL. Most men tend to easily obtain enough iron in their diet to maintain these levels, but many women naturally have a lower hematocrit/hemoglobin level.
Any abnnormally low hematocrit/hemoglobin (also called anemia) can develop when a person either does not make enough red blood cells or loses blood from the body. The most common cause of mild anemia in healthy people - particularly women - is a low level of iron which is need to make red blood cells.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
- Heart palpitations (rapid or irregular beating)
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
Common Signs Include:
- Pale complexion
- Normal red lining of the mouth and eyelids fades in color
- Rapid heartbeat
- Abnormal menstruation (either absence of periods or increased bleeding)
If your low hematocrit/hemoglobin is due to low iron, you can replenish the supply by increasing your intake of iron-rich food or supplements. The United States Department of Agriculture recommendations for iron varies with age and sex. For most males and postmenopausal women, it is 10 mg per day. Premenopausal women should ingest 15 mg of iron per day.
Here is a list of iron-rich foods to help you boost your intake:
- Liver, beef, pork, poultry, and fish are all excellent source of dietary iron. These foods contain heme iron, which is readily absorbed by the body - keep in mind it is beneficial for your health to opt for lean protein sources such as lean ground beef, sirloin, flank or filet, chicken or turkey breast, or pork tenderloin.
- Shellfish such as shrimp, clams, mussels, and oyster are also good sources of iron.
If you don't eat meat, poultry or fish, here are some great non-heme iron-rich foods:
- Iron fortified cereals - go with whole-grain options when possible
- Beans or legumes - especially kidney beans, pinto beans and chickpeas
- Vegetables such as peas, kale, watercress, broccoli, spinach and lentils
- Unsalted nuts and seeds (including natural peanut butter)
- Brown rice
- Fruits such as apricots, prunes, and raisins
- Enriched and whole-grain breads
The absorption of iron from any of these sources above can be improved by eating Vitamin C-rich foods at the same meal. Vitamin C-rich foods include 100% orange juice (1/2 cup), grapefruit, cantaloupe, green peppers and tomatoes. Tea and red wine contain tannins, which will decrease the absorption of iron. Coffee also has the same effect. Avoid drinking these before, after, or with meals.
Have questions? Feel free to contact me. Healthy wishes!
Alissa C. Robertson, MS, RD