Iron is a mineral that plays a critical role in proper body functions and is necessary for transporting oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body, ensuring that cells function properly and assisting our bodies in digesting the foods we consume. A variety of organ systems depend on iron as one of the components critical to their function, and even our immune systems are affected when our iron level is too low. Additionally, iron deficiency in pregnant women can lead to preterm babies, and deficiency in infants can result in delayed development of mental and motor functions.
While iron is necessary for overall health and wellness, the majority of people are most familiar with iron deficiency causing fatigue and cognitive issues, such as impaired memory.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common nutritional deficiency in the US is iron deficiency, which is also the most common cause of anemia. Due to this prevalence, it is important to know the symptoms to look for, while also keeping in mind that early stages of deficiency may not manifest in any noticeable symptoms. Groups with the highest risk of iron deficiency include babies and young children, adolescent girls, pregnant women and all women during their childbearing years. Most often, noticeable symptoms do not occur until iron deficiency anemia is present.
Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
• Lack of energy
• Feeling weak
• Inflammation of the tongue
• Finding it difficult to maintain your body temperature
• Delayed or slow development in babies, toddlers and young children
• Decreased performance at school or work
• Lower immune system function (which can lead to getting sick more often)
Preventing Iron Deficiency Through Diet: Iron-Rich Foods
Most healthy people can prevent iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia through eating a balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods. In some cases, such as with pregnant women with low iron, a supplement may be necessary. If you are considering taking an iron supplement, consult with your healthcare provider.
Here are examples of foods that are good sources of iron:
• Fortified breads, cereals, rice and pastas
• Poultry and lean red meats
• Dark, leafy green vegetables
• Oysters, scallops, shrimp and clams
• Prunes and prune juice
• Strawberries, figs and dates
• Organ meats (brains, kidney, liver, heart)