In a world of caffeinated breakfasts and deep-fried dinners, Americans are lacking critical nutrients. But with just a few changes in the types of food you eat, you can skip the coffee in the morning and feel fuller in the evening, leading to weight loss and more money. (Wouldn’t you like to save $5 every day on coffee? That’s $1,825 a year!)
Let’s take a quick moment to examine the benefits of getting more iron, look at what foods deliver the iron you need, and give you a reason to pick up a salad on your next lunch break:
#1: Decrease anxiety
Iron in your blood makes hemoglobin, and hemoglobin carries oxygen throughout the body and brings the carbon dioxide back to the lungs where it is exhaled.
When your body lacks iron and oxygen, it tries to make up the difference with your heart beating faster. Your body’s nervous center kicks in to send distress signals that it lacks oxygen, and you may go into fight-or-flight mode, even when there are no external stressors.
Long-term benefits: Increasing iron in your diet can lead to a healthier heart, healthier kidney, and better emotional well-being.
#2: Increase alertness and decrease headaches
The less iron you have, the less oxygen goes to your muscles, including your brain. Think about the way you breathe after exercising: you’re heaving in and out, because you need more oxygen. Now think about your brain operating without enough oxygen all the time, and you can’t pant enough to give it more oxygen. Eating iron-rich foods gives your brain more oxygen, which means you can focus longer with fewer headaches.
Long-term benefits: With better concentration, you could get better at your job.
#3: Get the energy you’ve been missing
Your brain isn’t the only muscle that benefits from more oxygen—the rest of your body is more energetic, too! Because iron makes the hemoglobin that transports more oxygen to your muscles, your body can do more with the same amount of effort.
Long-term benefits: Skip the morning joe (and the afternoon joe, for that matter), and save more money.
#4: Improve circulation
Cold hands and feet? How about a shaky leg every time you sit down? That may not be nerves—that may be another side of effect of your heart trying to work overtime. With more iron, your heart becomes more efficient. Your fingers and toes warm up, your body is more steady, and you can relax more often.
Long-term benefits: A healthier heart adds years to your life and improves the years you have left.
#5: Enjoy greater endurance
Every form of physical activity causes a spike in blood pressure and heart rate. That’s because your muscles need more oxygen and produce more carbon dioxide in a shorter amount time during your physical exertion. Do more of what you love, for longer.
Long-term benefits: Virtually every form of physical activity ends with a spike in dopamine and serotonin. Here’s what that means in layman’s terms: you’re a happier you.
Bonus for women and men
Women, get a bonus reason to eat more iron (hint: it involves your monthly cycle!).
Men, here’s another reason for you (hint: it involves your hair!).
Food with Iron
You can get all the iron you need by making small adjustments to the way you eat. Your body absorbs iron from meat better than from other sources. But to keep a balanced diet (and for those who don’t eat meat), you should eat a balance of several food groups to get all the nutrients you need.
Foods rich in iron include:
- Red meat
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
- Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
You also need to eat foods that aid in iron absorption so that the iron you eat makes it into your blood system instead of getting passed through your digestive tract. To do that, you need more vitamin C.
Foods rich in vitamin C that help absorb iron include:
- Leafy greens
If you or your loved one—especially a child—is experiencing severe symptoms of iron deficiency, talk to a doctor about your condition. Anemia when left untreated may lead to loss of consciousness. If someone you know faints, go to your nearest emergency room where medical professionals can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment.