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The Importance of Iron in Your Diet

Iron deficiency isn't commonly understood as an important health concern, but for those who suffer from iron deficiency anemia and don't get treatment, it can lead to death.

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Mayo clinic estimates that twenty percent of women and up to fifty percent of pregnant women experience iron deficiency, which in most cases can be cured with iron supplements and good nutrition. Iron deficiency precedes anemia: you can be slightly iron deficient: if the problem isn't solved, you may develop anemia.

Iron deficiency can cause anemia, a condition in which your body doesn't have the number of red blood cells it needs to transport oxygen throughout the body. Our bodies use iron to build hemoglobin, which is an important component in red blood cells. Red blood cells are created in your bone marrow, which needs iron and vitamins to manufacture hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is what makes red blood cells red: red blood cells carry oxygen to the brain and lungs, so when there isn't enough hemoglobin, these cells can't supply the body with the oxygen it needs.

When you're lacking in iron, you start to suffer from oxygen deprivation: your skin may become pale, you'll feel easily tired and may have problems with shortness of breath. Your hands and feet may feel cold and you may be lightheaded. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include brittleness of your nails, cravings for things that aren't food (this condition is called pica), like dirt or ice, headache and loss of appetite. Iron deficiency anemia may also cause your tongue to be sore or swollen, and you may experience restless leg syndrome, where legs feel twitchy, itchy and uncomfortable (usually at night).

Iron deficiency is caused by blood loss through heavy menstruation or internal bleeding from other causes, the body's greater need for iron that isn't met (such as in pregnancy) or nutritional deficits. Some people have conditions that make it difficult for their bodies to absorb iron, which can cause anemia. Although symptoms may be barely noticeable at first, if the deficiency isn't corrected, symptoms will worsen.

If your health is good, you should be able to meet your body's needs for iron with the food you eat. Foods rich in iron include meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, whole grains and foods that have been fortified with iron (many cereals have iron added). Meats contain the form of iron most easily absorbed by the body, but you can also get iron from beans, nuts, raisins and spinach. If you're watching your weight and aren't eating much meat, you may want to take iron supplements. Pregnant women are usually advised to take supplemental iron because their bodies' increased blood volume and the needs of the growing fetus make extra demands on their iron supplies. Children's vitamins should contain iron, and parents should make sure that kids are getting the right kinds of iron-rich foods.

People who are watching their weight should take care that they get plenty of iron: restricting your intake of meats can affect the level of iron in your body and make you feel fatigued. The U.S. RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for iron is 18 milligrams: you can get the iron you need with two or three, three ounce servings of meat (such as pork) or fish (like oysters) high in iron. Recommended amounts for pregnant women and children are higher than the U.S. RDA: check with your doctor. Taking iron supplements if you're watching what you eat will help, and concentrating on eating iron-rich foods will too. If you drink a juice high in Vitamin C with meals of high-iron foods, your body will absorb the iron more readily.

Continue reading the next aerobics article on eating habits

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