Women and iron

Tara Stark
By Tara Stark
April 6th, 2010

Iron needs vary throughout a woman’s lifespan, but from the onset of menstruation, until menopause, women’s iron needs are significantly higher than men’s. Female endurance athletes, pregnant women, vegetarian women and vegetarian adolescents have the highest iron needs of all, and are at the highest risk for iron deficiency.

Iron is needed for the body to produce hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. Iron deficiency can leave people feeling tired and weak.

There are two types of iron found in foods: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is derived from animal foods and is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron which comes from plant foods.

All meat, including seafood provides some heme iron which is easily absorbed by the body. The best vegetarian sources of iron include pumpkin seeds, tofu, soy beans, lentils, red kidney beans, refried beans, blackstrap molasses, wheat germ, soy milks, chick peas and swiss chard.

Phytates and polyphenols from vegetables and tannins from tea can interfere with the absorption of non-heme iron. Make sure you don’t drink tea or coffee with meals, and load up on Vitamin C rich foods like oranges, berries, kiwi fruit, broccoli, peppers and tomatoes which help the body absorb non-heme iron.

Some people may benefit from iron supplements, but iron supplements are not recommended for everyone. Do not take iron supplements without consulting with your doctor.

Categories: General