This post is not about pumping iron in the gym. It's about the iron we get, or don't get, in our diet.
I've been toying around with the idea of cutting meat out of my diet. One of my goals for the year is to eat a vegetarian diet for at least one week (as an experiment). I've hardly eaten red meat in the past 5 or so years, but I am partial to chicken, turkey, fish, and dairy products. However, since I started reading books by Michael Pollan and watched "Food, Inc." I have definitely decreased the amount of meat in my diet. It's a conscious decision I'm making and so far I'm really not missing it much. I don't plan to become a full vegetarian anytime soon - I may purchase ethically raised meat and fish from the farmer's market - but since I am making this change, I need to pay more attention to what I'm eating in order to get all the vitamins and minerals necessary to be healthy and active.
Many women, active or not, ages 10-50, are iron deficient and many of them do not even realize it. Chances are you've heard of anemia since it is the nation's most common nutritional deficiency but let me clarify quickly that someone may have iron depletion without being anemic since anemia is the the last stage of depletion. Common symptons of anemia include: feeling tired, weak, dizzy, short of breath, pale skin, and brittle nails. For more information, you can check out this site. Iron is very important to keep us active and healthy.
Because iron is necessary to transport oxygen to cells throughout the body, low iron levels can cause us to tire easily, effect our muscles and even impair memory. It is interesting that as important as iron is to keep our muscles firing and provide us with the energy we need to perform at our best, iron levels seem to decrease in highly active and athletic women. A study at Cornell University found that women with iron deficiency ( but non-anemic) have a much lower work capacity and lower performance levels than women with normal iron levels. This is not good news for us active women!!
What does this all mean? Well, it means that active women and those following a vegetarian diet (because iron is most commonly found in red meat), need to be especially diligent to make sure that they are getting enough iron in their diets. The researchers at Cornell suggest either eating red meat or, for vegetarians, drinking orange juice with meals because the vitamin C assists with the absorbtion of iron from foods like legumes, whole wheat bread and vegetables. Iron fortified breakfast cereals can also be a tasty source if you choose one that does not have too many calories or added sugar. Additionally, cooking vegetables and eating them along with meat (or iron rich foods) help aid absorbtion of iron. While drinking tea, coffee or wine and eating brand or soy proteins with iron rich foods will decrease absorbtion.
Even though some men are iron deficient, it is much more common for women. My guess is that more men may eat red meat than women (totally unscientific assumption on my part) and therefore they get all the iron they need. Also and probably more important, men aged 19-50 only need 8mg of iron per day while women of the same age need 18mg!
Have you had a problem with iron deficiency? If so, what have you done to increase your levels?