International Women’s Day is March 8th, but we’re celebrating women’s health during the entire month of March here at Vega. Both iron and calcium are two of the most scrutinized micronutrients for women, but sometimes it’s good to go back to the 411 level.
Why You Should Care About Iron
Iron is well known for its role in red blood cell production—which is certainly important. It’s also a key component of hemoglobin and myoglobin, proteins that carries oxygen from your lungs to your tissues and muscles, respectively, keeping your tissue alive and metabolism pumping. Iron is also needed for growth, all cellular functioning, and hormone production.National Institutes of Health. (2013). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. Accessed 2/24/15 from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
There are varying degrees of iron deficiency, and young women are at particular risk due to increased iron requirements (as needed for menstruation and pregnancy). Female athletes are also at increased risk, because of both increased demand for hemoglobin by muscle tissue, as well as increased loss of iron in sweat, and breaking of tiny blood vessels in feet from pounding the pavement, which is often observed in endurance athletes.Santolo MD, et al. (2008). Anemia and iron status in young fertile non-professional female athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 102 (6); 703-709 It is estimated that 10 to 20% of young women in North America and Europe have iron deficiency.Leonard AJ, et al. (2014). A Study of the Effects of Latent Iron Deficiency on Measures of Cognition: A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial of Iron Supplementation in Young Women. Nutrients. 6(6): 2419–2435. Accessed on 2/25/15 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073160/ The symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, brittle nails, frequent infections, and reduced cognitive function.Leonard AJ, et al. (2014). A Study of the Effects of Latent Iron Deficiency on Measures of Cognition: A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial of Iron Supplementation in Young Women. Nutrients. 6(6): 2419–2435. Accessed on 2/25/15 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073160/
If you suspect that you have an iron deficiency it’s important to see a health professional, who can run labs to confirm. These blood tests can be done at almost all clinics.
Daily Iron Needs for Women
Adult women of child bearing years, between the ages of 19 and 50, have higher iron needs than men in because of menstruation. To avoid iron deficiency, women in this age range are recommended by the Institute of Medicine to have 18mg of iron per day (compared to 8mg for men).National Institutes of Health. (2013). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. Accessed 2/24/15 from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
Daily Iron Needs for Women1
Plant-based Iron-Rich Foods
The best plant-based sources of iron are:
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals
- White beans (8mg per cup)
- Dark chocolate (7mg per 3 ounces)
- Dark leafy greens (from spinach to kale) (1-3mg per half cup cooked)
- Organic tofu (3mg per ½ cup)
- Vega One (2.7mg per serving)
Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron.1 Combine iron-rich foods with those that contain vitamin C like:
- Red or yellow peppers
Iron Supplements for Women
If you have chronically low levels of iron, you should speak to a health professional about supplementing further. They may recommend an iron supplement. Most supplements are in the form of ferrous iron. Higher supplemental doses often cause GI side effects, especially constipation. To help avoid this, increase your water consumption while taking iron supplements.
How do you get your iron?