8 Signs You're Not Getting Enough Iron from Food

You think your diet is balanced, but if your meals lack enough naturally occurring iron, your body will let you know with physical cues. Symptoms ranging from fatigue to having cold hands and feet are signs of anemia, which may be caused by low iron in the body. Here's what's going on and what you can do about it.

low iron from food

The Body's Reaction to Low Iron Levels

When you don't have enough iron in your system, it's not uncommon to feel unwell overall. Watch for a combination of these symptoms:

  1. Body weakness
  2. Pale skin
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Dizziness
  5. Chest pain
  6. Cold extremities
  7. Headaches
  8. An irregular heartbeat

Visit with your primary care physician to discuss your concerns and be tested for iron deficiency anemia, or a shortage of iron in your body. It's the most common type of anemia worldwide, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Iron deficiency anemia is common among pregnant women, women with heavy menstrual cycles, cancer patients, people with ulcers, and regular users of over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin.

When it comes to diet, if you're deficient in vitamin B-12 or folate, have a restrictive diet, or have a disease that limits your absorption of nutrients (such as Celiac disease or Crohn's disease), you're at a greater risk for low iron levels.

How Much Iron Do We Need?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements recommends men over the age of 19 consume 8 mg of food-sourced iron each day.

Women ages 19-50 should get 18 mg of iron per day, then decrease to 8 mg per day at age 51, or when they've reached menopause. Pregnant women should consume 27 mg of iron each day.

The bioavailability of iron from our foods varies, depending on diet. Those who consume a varied menu with ample meat, seafood, and vitamin C-rich foods absorb approximately 14 to 18 percent of the iron consumed through food, according to the NIH. Vegetarians can expect 5 to 12 percent absorption.

Common Food Sources of Iron

Iron is plentiful in a healthy, whole-foods based diet. Lean cuts of beef, liver, beans, oysters, dark chocolate, tofu, lentils, dried fruits, and dark leafy vegetables including spinach and kale are good sources of iron.

For example, one cup of canned white beans (perfect for adding to tacos or soup) adds 8 mg of iron to your plate. Three ounces of pan-fried beef liver will boost your iron intake by 5 mg. For every half-cup serving of chickpeas, kidney beans or stewed tomatoes, you'll get 2 mg of iron.

You can also consume iron in fortified foods, such as cereal, bread, and milk. Read the product package to discover how much iron was added, and how it fits into your daily dietary needs.

If you're watching calories, or have to avoid specific foods for medical reasons, consider taking a nutritional supplement to increase your iron levels without food. Neuterre Whole Food Iron Supplements may be gentle on the stomach and may help you boost your body's iron levels safely and effectively.