Iron Deficiencies

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Iron is an essential trace mineral that is vital for specific functions in the body. It is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. About 70 percent of the iron in your body is stored in the red blood cells. Iron is an essential nutrient -- meaning, the body is unable to make it. Therefore, it must be obtained from the foods we eat. Iron deficiency is one of the most common types of nutrient deficiencies.

People who are deficient in iron are at risk of developing a condition called anemia in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells in the body. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, pale skin, and sleep disturbances.

Classification of anemia Nutritional deficits are a major cause of decreased hemoglobin (Hgb) and erythrocyte production. The hemoglobin (Hgb) test measures how much hemoglobin your red blood cells contain. Hgb is a protein produced by your bone marrow that’s stored in red blood cells. It helps red blood cells transport oxygen from your lungs to your body through your arteries. It also transports carbon dioxide (CO2) from around your body back to your lungs through your veins. Hgb is what makes red blood cells look red.

Abnormally high or low Hgb can cause symptoms like the exhaustion, dizziness, or shortness of breath we mentioned above. Your Health Guardian may suggest an Hgb test if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. You may have an underlying condition that needs to be diagnosed.

The initial descriptive classification of anemia is associated with a mean RBC volume of less than 80 fl (femtoliters) and are classified as microcytic. Those volumes with values of 80 to 99 fl are classified as normocytic. Those volumes with values of 100 fl or more are macrocytic.

Microcytic anemia is associated most often with iron deficiency, whereas macrocytic anemia generally is caused by either folate- or vitamin B12– deficient erythropoiesis. However, because of the low specificity of these indexes, additional data are needed to distinguish between the various nutritional causes and non-nutritional causes, such as thalassemia trait and chronic renal insufficiency. Normocytic anemia is associated with the anemia of chronic and inflammatory disease (ACD). This type of anemia is associated with autoimmune diseases, rheumatic diseases, chronic heart failure, chronic infection, Hodgkin disease and other types of cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and other chronic inflammatory conditions, severe tissue injury, and multiple fractures. ACD does not respond to iron supplementation.

Other information from the CBC that helps to differentiate the non-nutritional causes of anemia includes leukocyte, reticulocyte, and platelet counts. When these levels are low, marrow failure is indicated, and elevated counts are associated with anemia caused by leukemia or infection.

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate testing is ordered when symptoms are nonspecific and if inflammatory autoimmune diseases are suspected. Reticulocytes are large, nucleated, immature RBCs that are released in small numbers with mature cells. When RBC production rates increase, reticulocyte counts also increase. Any time anemia is accompanied by a high reticulocyte count, elevated erythropoietic activity in response to bleeding should be considered.

The following ten foods are rich in iron, so add them to your diet to ensure that you are meeting your recommended daily intake every day. Care should be taken not to consume more Iron than is needed, which also can create health issues. It’s safer to get your Iron from foods rather than from concentrations of Iron supplements such as those iron rich foods listed below.

CLAMS, or shellfish in general, are an excellent source of iron — especially clams, oysters, and mussels. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron for the average adult is 18 milligrams (mg). One 3-oz serving of clams contains 23.8 mg of iron, which is 132% of your RDI. Clams are also an incredibly rich source of vitamin B12, with 1401% of your RDI in just one serving. Clams are also an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

ORGAN MEATS- such as beef liver are incredibly nutritious foods with various nutrition profiles. One 3-oz serving of beef liver contains 5.4 mg of iron, which is 30% of your RDI. Beef liver also contains incredibly high levels of both vitamin A and vitamin B12, with 534% and 987% of your RDI of each vitamin in a 3-oz serving, respectively. Beef liver is a great source of protein as well, and when eaten in moderation, can be a perfect nutritious addition to your diet.  

LEGUMES- If you’re looking for a non-animal source of iron, legumes contain some of the highest levels of this trace element. Soybeans come in first place with 8.8 mg or 49% of your RDI of iron in a one-cup serving. Lentils are a close second with 6.6 mg or 37% of your RDI of iron in one cup. Other iron-rich legumes include chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, kidney beans, and navy beans. Not only are legumes rich in iron, but they are also excellent sources of many other essential macro- and micro-nutrients including protein, fiber, folate, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and many healthy plant compounds.  

SPINACH, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, beet greens — most dark leafy green vegetables are good sources of iron. Not only are they rich in iron, but leafy greens are filled with many essential vitamins and minerals as well as disease-fighting and antioxidant plant compounds. One cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 mg of iron or 36% of your RDI. It also contains 377% of your RDI of vitamin A, 1111% of your RDI of vitamin K, 66% of your RDI of folate, in addition to calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.  

SEEDS- Who knew that such a tiny food could provide so many essential nutrients? Certain seeds are excellent sources of iron — especially pumpkin, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds. One ounce (28 g) of sesame seeds provides 4.1 mg of iron, which is 23% of your RDI. The same amount of hemp seeds contains 2.7 mg of iron, while pumpkin and flax seeds contain 2 mg, and 1.6 mg of iron, respectively. Seeds also provide many other important nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. They are known to reduce inflammation and to aid the body in fighting off chronic disease and cancer.  

BEEF- is an excellent source of heme iron, and an outstanding food to eat if you are prone to anemia. Heme iron is the type of iron found in blood and muscle — in other words; it's only available in animal foods. Heme iron is absorbed more quickly by the body than nonheme iron. This is good because it prevents anemia; however, too much heme iron can increase oxidative stress. This is why meat should be eaten in moderation. A 3-oz serving of meat — depending on the cut and the fat content — contains 2.4-2.7 mg of iron or around 15% of your RDI.  

OATS- Another great plant-based source of iron, oats are nutritious, filling, and versatile, and make for a delicious breakfast any day. One cup of oatmeal made from old-fashioned oats, or steel cut oats, contains 3.4 mg of iron, or 19% of your RDI. Oats are also an excellent source of dietary fiber and protein, so a bowl of this stuff in the morning will keep you full and satisfied for many hours after eating. Oats are also rich in essential minerals magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

QUINOA- This superfood has made waves in the health food world due to its unique taste, texture, and nutritional profile. Called a “pseudocereal,” quinoa may look and taste like a grain, but it’s actually a seed. Quinoa is rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8 mg iron, which is 15% of your RDI. Prepared as a main course or served as a side, quinoa is the perfect addition to any meal. It’s nutty taste, and versatility makes it a favorite in many households, so be sure to add it to your repertoire.  

CHOCOLATE- If you’re a chocoholic, luck is on your side. Not only is dark chocolate an excellent source of iron, but it’s also filled with many important disease-fighting antioxidants. One ounce of dark chocolate contains 3.3 mg of iron or about 18% of your RDI. Dark chocolate can boost your health in many ways. Studies show that it has the power to fight inflammation and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve cognitive function. Reach for 70 percent or higher dark chocolate to reap all of the benefits this food has to offer.  

FRUITS- are rarely good sources of iron, but there is an exception worth mentioning. You may associate prunes with A-listers in the lineup of effective constipation remedies — and you would be right — but they’re good for more than just that. One cup of prune juice contains 3 mg of iron or 17% of your RDI. A cup of pitted prunes contains 1.6 mg of iron. Prunes are also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin K, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.  

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