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Iron: Do You Need More?

by Jessica B. April 10th, 2012 | Nutrition
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As a vegetarian, I am often questioned about my iron levels. Whenever I got sick as a vegetarian teen, my parents would drag me to the doctor to make sure my iron levels were acceptable. Despite all of the concern, my iron levels have remained well within the normal range. Here are a few suggestions to raise your iron level or keep it within a healthy range. I try to take a few normal precautions, but I don’t spend too much time worrying about my iron unless I start to feel poorly.

1) Iron supplements – This might be an easy way to get your iron levels up quickly, but many people find iron supplements to be tough on their stomachs, causing them constipation and other unpleasant side effects. They are also, quite often, overkill. Unless you have been diagnosed with low iron levels, taking an iron supplement is probably unnecessary.

2) Fortified foods – Much of the food we eat these days is fortified with vitamins, and that means we get a lot of iron into our systems this way. Cereals and breads are a source of iron, and they can constitute a large amount of iron in your daily diet. Check your labels carefully; if you are eating bran flakes and fortified bread, you probably do not need an iron supplement.

3) Iron-rich plant based foods – There are two types of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme is found in animal products and non-heme is in plants. Even in a meat eaters diet, a U.K. study showed that 75% of iron came from non-heme sources, including bread and cereal. Other vegetables, which offer a great deal of iron, include: beans, tofu, figs, lentils, kale, mushrooms, potatoes, and spinach.

4) Iron in animal based foods – Eggs and cheese are also a source of iron, but they have somewhat lower iron than some of the plant based foods. Meat can be a good source of iron, but it can be compensated for easily with a mixed vegetable based diet.

As with many other nutrients and vitamins, the easiest way of getting iron into your diet is by eating a healthy variety of vegetables. If you have been diagnosed with anemia or are pregnant, your needs for iron change and may require a supplement. As supplements can be irritating to your stomach, a good way to cope with this is to increase the amount of non-heme iron in your diet.

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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.