Are you getting enough? Our daily requirement for iron is 18 milligrams. Men get approximately two-thirds of their iron needs met by heme iron (found in meat, fish, and poultry); this amount varies for women. (The other form of iron is nonheme iron, which comes from plant sources.) And the group that's most likely coming up short when it comes to iron is women—specifically women in their reproductive years. Roughly 30 to 80 percent of women are iron-deficient, according to studies. Anemia is more prevalent in premenopausal women due to blood loss during menstruation, and women with heavy menstrual flow are even more likely to become anemic. Other factors contributing to anemia in women include pregnancy and breastfeeding, which drain iron stores. Low dietary intake of iron or poor iron absorption can be causes, as well.
And there's new information for women on the iron front. A recent study suggests that active women should be sure to keep an eye on their iron levels. In a study of female U.S. soldiers, military combat training lowered the women's iron levels, but supplementing with iron not only helped build up their iron stores, it also improved their physical and cognitive performance levels. Even women getting more moderate levels of exercise should be careful to get their daily requirement for iron to ensure that all of the tissues in their bodies get enough oxygen to function optimally.
The good news is that there are many iron-rich recipes to choose from. Food sources rich in iron include beef, poultry, fish, clams, shrimp, soybeans, lentils, white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, spinach, potatoes, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and blackstrap molasses. Try one (or several) of these recipes from the Rodale Recipe Finder; they're all great ways to boost your iron intake.
#1: Shrimp and Crab Salad with Edamame and Tarragon. Shrimp and soybeans (edamame) provide the iron in this scrumptious salad; increase the iron by serving it on a bed of baby spinach leaves. Sesame seeds add iron (and deliciousness) to an
Oriental Spinach Salad.
#2: New England Clam Chowder. Clam chowder fans fall into two camps. No matter which version you prefer, feel free to dig in to this nutritious soup. Clams are an excellent source of iron, and potatoes and dried thyme add even more of the mineral. Here's the Classic Manhattan Clam Chowder recipe.
#3: Spinach Hummus. Smooth, creamy dips are a great way to scoop up some iron. Choose this spinach-accented version of traditional chickpea hummus, or get your iron from spreads with soybeans or white beans and lentils.
#4: Sesame Spinach. Sesame seeds boost the iron in this sautéed spinach side dish. For a side using edamame, try Edamame with Sesame, Scallions, and Almonds.
#5: Teriyaki Beef Wraps. It's easy to find delicious, protein-filled entrée recipes that are also rich in iron. If you love shrimp, try Shrimp with Chard and Red Beans. Vegetarians benefit from the added iron in blackstrap molasses while enjoying this bean-based chili.