Are you feeling excessive fatigue? Paleness? Dizziness? While we may be feeling more sluggish than usual during the winter months from colder temps and shorter days, a lack of iron may be playing a role in your fluctuating energy levels too. This incredibly important mineral is essential for normal tissue growth and development, and mitochondrial health (think of mitochondria as your cell’s battery).
Minerals play a very important role in our overall well-being, and deficiencies can be hard to detect. Today’s conventional farming practices (herbicides, pesticides, antibiotic use and insecticides) strip our soil of critical nutrients we could be receiving from produce, wheat, corn, beans and legumes. This means conventional farming is not supportive of our vitamin and mineral needs anymore. And to top it off, iron deficiencies are most common in menstruating women, pregnant women and toddlers. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about already! Menstruating women are especially susceptible to anemia because our bodies are losing iron due to our monthly bleed and we often aren’t replenishing with enough to fill this deficit.
Iron is used by the body in the formation of hemoglobin, which is a protein used to carry oxygen within our red blood cells to tissues around our body. Around 75% of our body's iron is bound to hemoglobin, transporting oxygen around our body, with a smaller percentage found in myoglobin, transporting oxygen to our muscles. The remaining 25% of our iron levels are stored by binding with the protein ferritin in our liver, spleen, and bone marrow.
There are two different types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found from animal sources and is more absorbable than non-heme. Plant sources of iron are considered non-heme. Okay, biology class is over. Now for the actionable stuff. If you are low on iron, it’s a no-brainer, you simply need to eat more bioavailable forms of iron.
Up Your Iron Intake
If you are a plant-based eater, you need to be cognizant of your increased need for iron-rich vegetables and legumes. Lentils, kidney beans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, potatoes with the skin, spinach, beets, and molasses are some plant based sources of iron to include in your diet. It is also important to note that consuming plant-based sources of iron with vitamin c rich foods helps with iron absorption in the body. Our Up Beet Salad, Hearty Bowl, and Coconut Dahl are full of plant-based sources of iron & vitamin C.
If you include animal protein in your diet, it can be easier to increase your iron intake, although you can still have iron deficiencies on an omnivorous diet. Our new Grass-fed Beef + Mushroom Stew along with the Gluten Free Pasta Bolognese, and Beef + Broccoli Noodle Bowl, and Grass Fed Flank Steak are excellent, iron-rich options to add to your weekly rotation.
Iron supplements can be harsh on the digestive system, causing nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping to name a few. It’s best to try and increase your iron through food sources initially. If it’s not working and you still experience symptoms, there are several supplemental options such as capsules, tablets, liquid, and IV doses of iron. Working with a functional medicine practitioner or general practitioner is beneficial for determining your iron levels and stores. They can help you navigate how to best supplement based on your individual needs.
So next time you blame the winter blues for your consistently low energy (we’ve been there) it’s time to look at your mineral intake and more specifically your iron levels. If you’re not getting enough iron, with increased intake you will transform from tired-out into revved-up in no time.