Iron: Are you getting enough in your diet

Iron is a mineral that makes hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood to your body's cells. For example, your arm muscles need oxygen so you can pick up a child. Iron also helps to produce energy in your cells.

When you do not have enough iron in your blood, you may feel tired or irritable. Iron deficiency may cause dizziness, shortness of breath, depression, rapid heartbeat, and weakness. Children have a hard time concentrating making it harder for them to learn. Even though iron can be found in many foods, it can be challenging to get enough of this essential mineral.

How much iron do you need? The following are the recommended dietary allowances for iron:

Infants up to six months: 6 milligrams

Infants six months to one year: 10 milligrams

Children: 10 milligrams

Males ages 11-18: 12 milligrams

Adult males: 10 milligrams

Females ages 11-50: 15 milligrams (females require more due to the blood loss during menstruation)

Females ages 50 and older: 10 milligrams

Women who are pregnant: 30 milligrams

Women who are lactating: 15 milligrams

Post-menopausal females: 10 milligrams

Pregnant women need more iron because they have an increased circulating blood volume and the fetus begins storing iron in their liver. Since most diets don't contain enough iron for pregnant women, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement. iron supplements are best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach 1-2 hours before meals. Iron may cause an upset stomach in which case can be taken with food. Drinking orange juice, or another form of vitamin C, will help your body absorb the iron better, but beware that dairy products can decrease absorption by 30 percent to 50 percent.

It can also be helpful to limit consumption of coffee or tea (which contain polyphenlos) at meals since they might decrease the absorption of iron. There are many foods that contain iron. For example, beef, pork, tuna, poultry, iron-fortified cereals, tofu, soybeans, sweet potatoes, rice, bran, pasta, dark green leafy vegetables, and dried fruits are all good sources of iron. The form of iron in meat, fish, and poultry is absorbed better than the form in plant sources. People who do not eat meat, fish, or poultry may have a harder time meeting there needs for iron.

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