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Published: February 16, 2022

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How do you ensure you get enough iron in your diet? Adults definitely need to consider iron intake as they mature. Iron is a vital mineral that helps carry oxygen through your bloodstream to all parts of your body.

Iron-deficiency anemia

“Without adequate iron stores, individuals can develop a condition called iron-deficiency anemia — the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. It’s associated with symptoms like fatigue, weakness, trouble maintaining body heat, pale skin, dizziness, headache, and an inflamed tongue,” says Cleveland Clinic registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.

Dietary requirements for iron are lower as healthy adults get older (51 and older), and with some planning, you can get adequate iron by including iron-rich foods in your healthy diet and prevent anemia.

Anemia occurs in more than 10% of individuals who are older than the age of 65 years, and it increases to more than 50% in individuals who are older than the age of 80 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A study from the University of California found adults who had anemia at age 65 were more likely to develop dementia in their 70s. "Given how common both anemia and dementia are in older adults, more attention to the connection between the two is important, and I do think screening older adults for anemia makes sense," said lead study author Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

By increasing iron in your diet, you can help protect yourself from the effects of anemia.

Here are a few good sources of iron to consider:

  1. Clams, Oysters, Mussels: There are two types of iron found in food: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the kind found in meat and seafood. It’s more easily absorbed by your body, so it’ll increase your iron levels much faster than non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. When it comes to high iron content, shellfish can’t be beat. Just three ounces of shelled clams, oysters, or mussels contain more than 100 percent of your daily iron requirement.
  2. Squash, Pumpkin seeds: If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, seeds are some of your best sources of iron. Squash and pumpkin seeds contain the most iron with 23 percent of your daily requirement per ounce. Sesame and sunflower seeds run a close second. These are non-heme sources of iron, so your body won’t absorb as much, but they’ll still help improve your iron levels.
  3. Dark Leafy Greens: Dark Leafy green have many health benefits, one of which is providing iron to your body. One cup of cooked spinach has 36 percent of your daily requirement. Other good choices are swiss chard, turnip greens, and kale.
  4. Meat: When you’re choosing meats for your dinner table, it’s best to pick lean cuts like beef with little or no marbling or skinless chicken breast. Liver is an even better choice—it’s the cut with the highest levels of iron. Because meats contain heme iron, your body will be able to make better use of more of the iron you eat.
  5. Citrus Fruits: While oranges aren’t a good source of iron themselves, foods high in vitamin C assist in the absorption of iron. Adding some sliced oranges to your spinach salad will help your body get the most out of the iron in the spinach. Other foods high in vitamin C include red and yellow peppers and tomatoes.

But if you have trouble getting enough iron from food sources, you may need an iron supplement. Consult a physician about your iron levels before you consider an iron supplement and follow their instructions carefully. “Because very little iron is excreted from the body, iron can accumulate in body tissues and organs when the normal storage sites – the liver, spleen and bone marrow-- are full. Although iron toxicity from food sources is rare, deadly overdoses are possible with supplements,” according to WebMD.


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Author Molly Kavanaugh 2020In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.