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How Can You Get Enough Iron in Your Diet?

If you’re feeling tired, run down, short of breath or have heart palpitations, BBC says it’s possible you may have iron-deficiency anemia, the world’s most common nutritional disorder. If you haven’t had your iron levels checked, it may be a good idea to do that if you’re feeling out of sorts, especially before you go loading up on iron-fortified foods, many of which are in a form you can’t actually absorb. Fermented breads are best, BBC adds, along with leafy green vegetables.

I agree that managing your iron is crucial to good health. I also agree that the way to increase your iron is not by looking for iron-fortified processed foods. That said, since iron is essential for life as it transports oxygen in your body, and is involved in energy production and immune function, it’s also true that having too much of it can have serious repercussions. Inarguably, excess iron can accelerate every major disease we know of.

The bottom line is balance is the key. I know this from personal experience. More than 20 years ago, a test for iron (ferritin) saved my dad’s life, when it was discovered he had too much iron in his body. With regular phlebotomies, his iron levels normalized. I inherited this problem from my dad, so this is a personal issue with my own health and I, too, keep my iron levels normal by removing about a quart of blood over a few dozen deposits over the course of a year.

On the flip side, if your iron is low, you can improve it by eating whole, fresh real foods — meaning, don’t resort to something that’s “fortified.” Iron-rich foods include organ meats such as liver, as well as grass fed red meat, dark turkey meat, clams, spinach, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, broccoli, dark chocolate (minimum 70 percent cocoa) and seaweed.

As a rule, animal-based iron is more readily absorbed while plant-based sources are less bioavailable. Taking vitamin C can help improve bioavailability of the iron in your food, and beware of ferrous sulfate, a form of iron found in many multivitamins, including children's multivitamins, as it is relatively toxic and can lead to significant problems. The biggest danger is acute overdose, which can be lethal. A safe form of supplement is carbonyl iron.

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