Iron deficiency is a very real health challenge for vegans, vegetarians, women with frequent and heavy menstrual cycles, pregnant women and those with a poor diet. Low iron contributes to a decrease in energy because less oxygen carrying red blood cells are produced which means there is less oxygen carried around your body. Iron is also vital for an optimal functioning immune system, thyroid and plays a critical role in fertility.
Symptoms of iron deficiency may include:
- chronic fatigue
- pale of yellowing of the skin
- muscle weakness
- sleep changes
- weight change
- cold hands and feet
- hair loss
- mood changes
- brittle nails
- headaches, and even
- leaky gut or Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
When low on iron it’s critical to get plenty of Vitamin C in your diet because Vitamin C increases iron absorption. This is very important for vegans and vegetarians and others that are low in iron. But Vitamin C from a pharmacy, chemist or an over-the-counter supplement is not the type we encourage. These products are laboratory made and are full of binders, fillers, colours and flavourings amongst other things which means you’re not getting a good quality Vitamin C. We recommend organic camu camu which can be brought at any good health food store. However, read the ingredients because some suppliers put tapioca flour in with it which is not necessary!
The amount of iron someone needs varies greatly between age and sex. As a general rule of thumb the older you are the more you need and if you’re female you’ll need more than a male due to menstruating each month. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron is eight milligrams per day for men (19+) and older women (51+) while pre-menopausal women (19-50) need around 18 milligrams per day. The RDA’s for vegetarians are 1.8 times higher than those that eat meat (heme-iron) purely because the iron in meat is more bio-available than the iron from plant-based foods (non-heme iron).
The NZ Nutritional Foundation suggests the following daily amounts of iron:
- Children ages 1 to 3: 9 milligrams
- Children ages 4 to 8: 10 milligrams
- Children ages 9 to 13: 8 milligrams
- Women ages 14 to 18: 15 milligrams
- Men ages 14 to 18: 11 milligrams
- Women ages 19 to 50: 18 milligrams
- Pregnant and breast feeding: 27 milligrams
- Men ages 19-70+: 8 milligrams
- Women ages 51+: 8 milligrams
Here’s a quick home test to see if you are low on iron:
- Use your index finger to retract your lower eyelid downward one at a time.
- Observe in a mirror or have a family member observe the colour of the conjunctiva (the inner eyelid)
- The colour can range from white to pale pink to pink.
Pink is the colour you want to have. If you have noted that your colour is less than pink then you may have an iron deficiency and perhaps our Amish Iron Drink is something you might want to consider having each day. If you are very concerned we suggest seeing your family health professional to discuss other options like blood tests or dietary changes.
Foods rich in Iron:
If you eat a varied diet overall that includes plenty of whole foods, you’re unlikely to need more iron. We encourage people to eat a variety of whole-foods which include great sources of iron like:
- organic grass-fed meat products,
- organic free-range poultry and eggs,
- organic unpasteurized dairy products like raw milk
- plenty of different fruits
- black strap molasses
- pistachio nuts
- pumpkin (pepita) seeds
- kidney beans
Also, try to eat foods in combinations that help your body to absorb iron better. (See our Amish Iron Drink) For example, you can pair a food that is naturally high in vitamin C (like leafy greens or citrus fruits) with beans to make a better source of iron, since vitamin C helps your body absorb the non-heme iron. It may seem complicated to pair the right foods together in order to absorb iron in the best way, but if you eat a varied diet overall that includes plenty of whole foods, you’re unlikely to need more iron.