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Are You Getting Enough Iron?

Always Tired? The 1 Thing That Could Be to Blame

You get plenty of sleep and you're not catching a cold, yet lately you feel run-down, have crazy headaches, and can't focus at work. It may have something to do with how much iron you're getting in your diet.

An adult woman should aim for 18 milligrams of iron a day, and if you're not reaching this goal, you may have anemia, an iron deficiency. Our bodies need iron to make hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. If your cells aren't getting oxygen, that explains the tired, foggy head. You may also notice pale skin, brittle nails, and cold hands.

You may be at risk for low levels of iron if you tend to have heavy periods, are pregnant, or just had a baby. Other at-risk individuals include endurance athletes, vegans, and individuals who donate blood frequently or have a condition that makes it hard to absorb nutrients from food. You can take iron supplements, but they may cause an upset stomach, heartburn, or constipation, so it's best to get your iron from food. Check out the list below to see which foods contain the most iron so you can be sure to get your fill.

Food Amount Iron (mg)
Apricot, dried 1/2 cup halves 1.2
Artichoke 1 medium 0.7
Asparagus, cooked 1/2 cup 0.8
Barley, cooked 1 cup 2.1
Beans (garbanzo) 1/2 cup 1.6
Beans (kidney) 1/2 cup 2
Beans (lima) 1/2 cup 2.3
Beans (pinto) 1/2 cup 1.8
Broccoli, cooked 1/2 cup 0.5
Brown rice, cooked 1 cup 0.8
Cashews 1/4 cup 2
Cashew butter 2 tbsp. 1.6
Egg 1 large 0.7
Flaxseed, ground 1 tbsp. 0.4
Fortified cereal such as Wheat Chex 3/4 cup 13.5
Ground beef 1 patty 1.9
Kale, raw 1cup 1.1
Lentils 1/2 cup 3.3
Molasses 1 tbsp 0.9
Oats 1 cup 3.4
Oysters, cooked 3 oz 10.2
Peanuts 1/4 cup 0.6
Peanut butter 2 tbsp. 0.6
Pine nuts 1/4 cup 1.9
Potatoes, with the skin 1 small 1.5
Pumpkin seeds 1/4 cup 5.2
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 2.8
Raisins 1/4 cup 0.8
Salmon 3 oz. 0.9
Shrimp, cooked 3 oz. 2.6
Soybeans (edamame) 1/2 cup 1.8
Spinach, raw 1 cup 0.8
Steak 3 oz. 3.2
Sun-dried tomatoes 1/4 cup 1.2
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 1.8
Sunflower seed butter 2 tbsp. 1.6
Tofu, extra firm 1/2 block 4.3
Turkey (dark meat) 3 oz. 2.1
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Maria del Rio
Product Credit: Fleur du Mal Bra, Underwear + Robe
Bree87 Bree87 4 years
I did not get pale skin or brittle nails but I do tend to be the first one to be cold. I didn't find out about my anemia for months. I actually got severe stomach pains & had seen my doctor & it wasn't until my 4th visit that I was sent for blood work & an ultrasound. It was found that my hemoglobin was only at 78 which was low enough that my doctor almost considered sending me for a transfusion. My energy levels were lower & I'm still working on getting my iron up as it was non existent. My hemoglobin went up at least. The low hemoglobin & having no iron actually turned out to be the source of my stomach pains(not enough blood flow to stomach especially during/after intense physical activity)Some days I felt like I couldn't get out of bed it hurt so bad. I also found out about the need for vitamin c to absorb iron as I was eating plenty of iron rich foods but not enough vitamin c to absorb it. On top of all of this my periods have always been heavy & long so I've also been put on birth control which at least prevents the 7-10 day periods. I just thought I would share my experience as it took my doctor awhile to figure out my problem & I had now idea what was wrong either. I hope it can help someone else :)
LittleMzFit LittleMzFit 8 years
Ferrous sulfate is the cheapest, but LEAST absorbable form of iron, the MOST constipating, and most abundantly found. Please look for ferrous gluconate, even better if its in a natural herbal base. Check with a health food store.
crystalm07 crystalm07 9 years
All those symptoms sound way too familiar and I never thought of this...weird...I should really think about increasing my iron and see if it makes a difference!
Spectra Spectra 9 years
I try to get enough iron in my diet, but I eat very little red meat and other high-iron foods. So I take a multi with iron just to make sure I get enough.
Merlin713 Merlin713 9 years
If your stomach can't tolerate the iron, take it on an empty stomach and eat right after. To help absorption you can take a vitamin C tablet or take it with orange juice. I was so severely anemic that I couldn't stand up in the shower long enough to shampoo my hair. If you don't pay attention to that you could end up in the hospital getting a transfusion. I think I was about a day away from that. Technically I'm still very anemic but I feel so much better than a few months ago. I had to take three iron pills a day... Believe me, I know how hard it is. Sometimes you just have to do it for your health. I have to take iron the rest of my life. Unless, of course, someone finds a cure for UC.
alba1 alba1 9 years
yeah i really should try to include more iron into my diet, specially since having thalassemia (minor) also contributes to my low iron levels.
itsme3683 itsme3683 9 years
sonyabonya-- I'm anemic so I have to take iron supplements, but they can be really harsh. If it was your stomach that was preventing you from taking the supplements (as opposed to the actual having to take a pill!) then I would try Ferrous Gluconate tablets instead. Most iron tablets are ferrous (something else) and I hated them. So yeah, just a tip! It's a little harder to find, but if you ask the pharmacist they can usually find it.
misshouston misshouston 9 years
A few weeks ago I was turned away from donating blood because of low iron, and the associate told me to be careful of foods that can interfere with iron absorption. One of those is milk, so if you eat your iron-enriched breakfast cereal with milk, you're only getting part of the benefit. iVillage has a good page on this (written for pregnant women, but good all-around advice):,,45h5,00.html.
Allytta Allytta 9 years
what about beef?
Allytta Allytta 9 years
i find eating iron fortified cereal helpful, you get it without even worrying or taking a pill...
geebers geebers 9 years
I agree - I am vegetarian too and you must pay attention to what you eat. If you are eating breads and cheese and pasta all the time- you will not get enough iron. I ate badly for the past two weeks and it hit me badly this week.
gabiushka gabiushka 9 years
I dont think being a veg is an excuse. Just check the iron amount in pumpkin seeds; anyway there is a ton of vegetables in that list.
alikat07 alikat07 9 years
oh my ilanac13, that sounds horrible! My doctor has me taking iron supplements - beforehand she did a blood test to check my total blood count and we are going to re-test in 2-3 months to see if the supplements are being absorbed and there is an improvement.
Advah Advah 9 years
Not long ago, I started using blackstrap molasses as a sweetener for tea, I'd def recommend it. :) Pretty easy to incorporate in your diet!
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
let me tell you that i know FIRST HAND what it's like to be sooo severly anemic that you can't do anything. for months i couldn't figure out why i was so tired and why i was getting super winded even just walking up stairs when i know that i'm in good shape and it turned out that although i thought i was eating enough iron, my body wasn't absorbing it. i was on IV's of iron for 2 months and now i'm getting back to normal - so PLEASE PLEASE listen to these options about what you can eat to get enough iron. i'm a vegetarian so it was a little more challenging for me - but i think that if you're good about it you can maintain a healthy diet.
Halie Halie 9 years
I don't get enough iron, I eat these foods (minus the meat - I'm a vegetarian, reason why I don't get enough) and I take a supplement that contains 100% of my daily needs. I don't think I'm absorbing it all into my system, so I try to eat iron rich foods, on top of taking a supplement, on top of eating iron absorption enhancing foods.
myystque myystque 9 years
I guess I do since I supplement my morning smoothie with flaxseed (although not 1/2 a cup, but I also eat a lot of tofu.
jamiedynamite jamiedynamite 9 years
Hm...I wonder if this applies to me. Lately I've been so exhausted for no reason.
Soniabonya Soniabonya 9 years
i probably don't, which could explain my exhausted state now, and i hated taking the iron tablets when i was on them. blah. need more food with iron in them.
melizzle melizzle 9 years
I don't. I'm an "accidental vegetarian:" I'm not a vegetarian, but I eat meat very rarely. I've never been able to give blood as a result. Last time, the Red Cross volunteer told me that I could eat nails for two weeks straight and not have enough. Sheesh! I did get an "I tried!" sticker out of it... :)
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
I know I don't get enough iron, so I have been taking an iron pill daily and really noticed a (good!) difference!
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