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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Iron Deficiency

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Iron is an essential nutrient with many important biological functions.  One of its main jobs is to carry oxygen in the hemoglobin of red blood cells.  All of your body's cells use oxygen to produce energy.  If your iron stores are low you may feel tired and weak. You may experience more infections.  Iron deficiency is usually the result of too little iron in the diet, poor absorption of iron from the foods you eat and/or recent blood loss such as from heavy menstrual periods. Those at highest risk for iron deficiency include infants and children, menstruating and pregnant women, and vegetarians.

There are two forms of iron in food:

  1. Heme Iron
    • Found in foods like meat, poultry and fish.
    • This form is the easiest for the body to absorb
  2. Non–Heme Iron
    • Found in plant foods (legumes, vegetables, grains, fruit), eggs, milk, fortified breakfast cereals and enriched breads, pasta and rice.
    • This form has a low absorption rate in the body, meaning it's less available for the body to use
    • Consuming foods rich in Vitamin C (citrus fruits, broccoli, green pepper) along with non-heme iron containing foods will boost the absorption from these foods.  For example, drink a glass of orange juice with your peanut butter and jelly sandwich
    • Including a little meat, poultry or fish will enhance iron absorption from plant foods.  For instance, add a small amount of ground turkey or lean beef to your bean and veggie chili

Iron Recommendations - Dietary Reference Intake (DRI)

  • Menstruating women:  18 mg daily
  • Men:  10 mg daily

Your health care provider may recommend an iron-containing dietary supplement if you cannot consume enough dietary iron and your iron stores are low.