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Ever feel like you’re moving in slow mo? Instead of accepting the drudgery of dragging yourself through the day, you might want to try taking a look at your diet – it’s possible that your body is trying to tell you something. Feeling headachy, weak, and sluggish may be clues that you need more iron in your diet. Simply put, your body relies on iron to make healthy blood cells, and without it, you can develop iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that comes along with those undesirable feelings. You’re not alone if this sounds like you: iron-deficiency anemia is quite common, and affects mostly women, young children, and older people.
Perk Up with Non-Meat Iron Picks
It’s a widespread misconception that you have to load up on red meat in order to boost your iron intake – and if you’ve crossed it off your food lineup, that’s a notion that feels like instant diet defeat. But the good news is, while it’s true that red meat is one of the richest sources of iron in the diet, it’s not the only way to get this nutrient, and you don’t have to choke down a plate of liver and onions to improve your iron intake. There are plenty of great non-meat iron sources, so vegetarians can find excellent blood-boosting foods among the mountain of choices, too.
Iron-Rich Non-Beef Sources
- Seafood favorites like tuna, salmon, and shellfish – clams, mussels, and oysters are especially good sources
- Cooked lentils and beans
- Cooked broccoli, asparagus, and leafy greens
- Dried fruit (such as prunes, apricots, and raisins)
- Eggs (especially the yolks)
- Nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, and almonds, in particular)
- Iron-fortified whole grain cereals and pastas
Non-Meat Iron Power Pairs: Better Together
After you’ve settled on some foods to try that can add more non-meat iron to your diet, take it one step further by creating power pairs. Food sources of non-heme iron (foods with iron that are plant-based) aren’t as readily absorbed into the blood as heme iron (foods with iron that are animal-based). You can improve the absorption of non-heme iron foods by pairing them with Vitamin C – rich picks like citrus, strawberries, and tomatoes during your meal. Think bean chili with tomatoes. Even better, combining heme iron with non-heme iron foods can help improve the absorption of the non-heme iron up to three times. So, incorporating ground turkey into your chili with beans and tomatoes not only adds the punch of iron from the turkey, but also improves the way the iron from the beans works in your body.
The Bottom Line
If you don’t eat red meat, there are plenty of great non-meat iron choices that can help give your tired blood a boost! Some seafood, poultry, fortified grains, dried fruits and vegetables, and eggs can help add a little more pep to your step when incorporated into your daily diet. Of course, if you’re feeling fatigued all the time, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to rule out any serious health issues.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.