Iron is help for tired blood

May 04, 1999

Feeling sleepy, grumpy, have a headache or no energy? It could be you just need time to recover from a busy, hectic schedule. But if your fatigue just won't go away, you might have iron-deficiency anemia.

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Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the bloodstream. Low iron means blood can't deliver as much oxygen to body tissues. When too little oxygen gets to your brain and other parts of your body, you may feel tired or irritable and have difficulty concentrating. Iron-deficiency anemia can be diagnosed by a simple blood test at your doctor's office.

The recommendation for adolescents and adult women is 15 milligrams of iron daily. The recommendation jumps to 30 milligrams during pregnancy. In comparison, adult men need only 10 milligrams daily. Women's needs are higher because of iron losses through menstruation and pregnancy. Recent studies have shown that the average American woman consumes only about 60 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for iron. These studies show that women tend to eat fewer of the foods that are rich in iron then do most American men. This puts them at risk for iron-deficiency.


Iron intake can be boosted by focusing on iron-rich foods. Iron is present in both animal- and plant-based foods, but the iron in animal foods is more readily absorbed by the body. Red meats are the best sources of iron. Liver is one of the best sources of all, but is very high in cholesterol.

You can decrease the calorie-fat-cholesterol count of most iron-rich meats by selecting lean cuts, removing visible fat and broiling the meat. Lean cuts of red meat and the dark meat of poultry are excellent sources of iron.

A three-ounce serving of lean ground beef provides 3 milligrams of iron and a three-ounce serving of pork and/or dark turkey meat provides 2 milligrams of iron.

One plant food high in iron is beans: one-half cup cooked kidney or lima beans provides 2 milligrams of iron. A large baked potato with skin provides close to 3 milligrams.

Other plant sources of iron include enriched white rice and pasta (2 milligrams per cup), wheat germ (2.6 milligrams per quarter cup), dried fruits (1 to 2 milligrams per half cup) and broccoli (1 milligram per half cup).

To optimize iron absorption from plant foods, eat vitamin C-rich foods like broccoli, strawberries or citrus fruits at the same meal. Vitamin C increases iron absorption, but you must consume them at the same time you eat the iron-containing foods.

When consumed with a meal, coffee can decrease iron absorption by as much as 39 percent; tea can decrease absorption by 87 percent. The culprit is not caffeine but other substances in the beverages. Poor iron absorption occurs only when coffee or tea are consumed along with the iron source. One study showed that including vitamin C in the same meal helps improve iron absorption.

If you normally consume very little iron but consume large quantities of high-fiber foods, the bran and substances in the fiber can interfere with the absorption of iron. If your diet is well rounded, with adequate amounts of both iron and fiber, this isn't a concern.

Many breakfast cereals and certain other grain products are fortified with iron. Most processed flours and baking mixes are enriched.

If you think you are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia, discuss it with your doctor.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County - University of Maryland.

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