Why do women need more iron and why does it matter?
IRON NEEDS VARY THROUGHOUT LIFE AND LIFESTYLES
Women require more iron than men throughout much of their lives. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) reports that starting at the age of 14 the recommended dietary intake of iron increases from 8 mg to 15 mg per day to balance the iron being lost in blood during menstruation. This increases again at the age of 18 to 18mg per day and decreases again at age 51 back down to 8 mg per day due to menopause. If a woman is pregnant or lactating her needs increase even higher to 27 mg per day.Similarly, women participating in regular intense exercise may also be at risk for inadequate iron intake due to increased needs.The point is depending on the stage of life, physical activity, different health conditions, and even genetics can change how much iron is healthy for each woman.
HOW THE BODY USES IRONThe best known function of iron is to help carry oxygen around the body, but it does more than that. Iron is important for energy production, making and repairing DNA, wound healing and improving immune function to help keep you from getting sick.The reason iron needs for women change during their lifetime is because it is being adjusted to work with how the female body changes.
Iron can be found in a variety of both plant and animal foods. It exists as two types, heme and non-heme. Whilst many people believe iron only exists in animal products such as meat, seafood and poultry. Iron also exists in plant foods such as:
IRON IN THE DIET
- Nuts (e.g. Almonds)
- Dried fruits (especially prunes, rasins, apricots)
- Dark Leafy Vegetables
- Whole Grains
Animal products provide heme iron, which the body can utilize with ease, whereas plant-based sources provide what is known as non-heme iron. This form is less easily absorbed, and hence those following a plant-based diet need to consume larger amounts of iron and may benefit from supplementation. There are also some other factors that support or prevent the absorption of non-heme iron.
WHAT CAN HELP INCREASE ABSORPTION?Eating iron-rich plant foods with a source of vitamin C helps increase how much iron the body takes in. Some of these vitamin C rich foods include citrus fruits, kiwi fruits, tomatos, strawberries, broccoli and bell peppers.
If you’re looking to optimize iron uptake, consider cooking your vegetables, as this will increase how much iron is available to the body. Avoid boiling vegetables in water as this can leak some of the nutrients from the vegetables, leaving it in the water. This isn’t a problem if you intend to use the water for a soup or broth but otherwise, it is best to look for other ways to cook your vegetables.
Similarly, soaking vegetables prior to cooking or proper germination and fermentation of vegetables before cooking will remove a compound in vegetables that would usually decrease how much iron the body receives.
A lot of people like to enjoy a glass or two (if not more) of wine with their dinner, compounds called tannins found in wine, tea and coffee can prevent iron absorption from plant foods.Try to avoid drinking these beverages with meals or snacks to get the most iron from what you eat. This may be particularly helpful for those struggling to meet recommendations or with an increased need for iron.
WHAT CAN DECREASE ABSORPTION?
For vegetarians who consume dairy products, it is important to point out that large amounts of dairy can interfere with iron uptake as calcium and phosphorous, two nutrients found in abundance in dairy, can interfere with how much iron you absorb. Like tannins, a simple way around this is to avoid having large amounts of dairy with plant-based foods. To minimize the risk of not absorbing iron from dairy, usingBlessed Plant Proteinis a great way to still meet your protein requirements without the worry of missing out on the iron when having it alongside a meal or mixing it with food such as oats.
Dietary choices regardless of age impact how much iron may be available for the body to absorb and use. Those following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle will want to ensure they are consuming plenty of iron-rich foods. If you do feel like you are easily fatigued, have trouble concentrating or get dizzy easily - it may be worth requesting a blood test to check your iron levels. From there, a practitioner can properly advise any supplementation if needed.
WOMEN WHO MAY NEED MORE IRON
Women’s bodies are always changing and with it their needs. Ensuring that you consume a well rounded and varied diet that includes plenty of iron-rich foods will put your body in the best place it can for optimal health.