Iron deficiency limits oxygen delivery to the body's cells, resulting in fatigue, poor work performance, and decreased immunity. Take steps to ensure you're getting enough iron in your diet.
Step 1: Eat foods rich in heme iron Eat foods rich in heme iron. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body than nonheme iron, so eating foods like meat, poultry, and fish -- all rich in heme iron -- can increase the amount of iron in your body.
Step 2: Eat foods rich in nonheme iron Eat foods rich in nonheme iron, such as vegetables, fruits, and grains. While nonheme iron is not as easily absorbed as heme iron, combining the two can significantly increase your body's absorption of nonheme iron.
TIP: Eating foods rich in vitamin C, such as green peppers, citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and leafy greens, also increases iron absorption.
Step 3: Avoid tea Avoid drinking black or pekoe teas, which contain substances that bind to iron so it cannot be used by the body.
Step 4: Use cast iron cookware Use cast iron cookware. Studies have found that cooking most foods containing iron in cast iron cookware increases the food's iron content significantly.
Step 5: Read labels Beware of misleading package labels. While many food labels -- especially iron-fortified breakfast cereals -- boast high iron content, only 4 to 10 percent of the iron listed actually gets absorbed.
Step 6: Take a supplement Take an iron supplement if diet alone isn't sufficient to maintain healthy iron levels in your body. Have your physician measure your level of serum ferritin, the storage form of iron, to determine whether you need an iron supplement.
FACT: Almost two-thirds of iron in the body is found in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to tissues.