How to 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. Dietary requirements for iron are lower as healthy adults get older (over 50), and with some planning, you can get adequate iron by including iron-rich foods in your healthy diet.
However, if you do not get adequate iron over a period of time, you can develop anemia, a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells.
Up to 23 percent of adults age 65 and older have anemia. That means almost one in four older adults may suffer from symptoms including headache, exhaustion, shortness of breath, or trouble thinking and concentrating as a result of low iron levels. Oftentimes when anemia is present, it is the result of an underlying chronic illness that requires evaluation by a medical professional.
A recent study from the University of California found adults who had anemia at age 65 were more likely to develop dementia in their 70s. 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.
Beware that there is such a thing as having too much iron in your diet. Please consult a physician about your iron levels before you consider an iron supplement.