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November 27, 2013

Staying Healthy: 5 Foods to Improve Your Iron Intake

Do you worry you’'re not getting enough iron in your diet? It’'s definitely an important question for older adults to consider. Iron is a vital mineral that helps carry oxygen through your bloodstream to all parts of your body. Since dietary requirements for iron are lower for healthy adults as they get older (over 50), most are able to get adequate amounts by including iron-rich foods as regular parts of their diets.

If iron deficiency is prolonged, it can result in anemia, a condition in which the body does not have enough red blood cells. Up to 23 percent of adults age 65 and older have anemia. That means almost one in four older adults may suffer from symptoms including headache, exhaustion, shortness of breath, or trouble thinking and concentrating as a result of low iron levels. When anemia is present in older adults, it is often the result of underlying chronic illness and should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Some even more serious effects of anemia are being researched. A recent study from the University of California found adults who had anemia at age 65 were more likely to develop dementia in their 70s. You can help protect yourself from the effects of anemia by making sure you have enough iron in your diet. We take a look at a few good sources of iron here:

  1. Clams, Oysters, Mussels: There are two types of iron found in food: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the kind found in meat and seafood. It’'s more easily absorbed by your body, so it'’ll increase your iron levels much faster than non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. When it comes to high iron content, shellfish can’t be beat Just three ounces of shelled clams, oysters, or mussels contain more than 100 percent of your daily iron requirement.
  2. Squash, Pumpkin seeds: If you'’re a vegetarian or vegan, seeds are some of your best sources of iron. Squash and pumpkin seeds contain the most iron with 23 percent of your daily requirement per ounce.  Sesame and sunflower seeds run a close second. These are non-heme sources of iron, so your body won’t absorb as much, but they’ll still help improve your iron levels.
  3. Dark Leafy Greens: Dark Leafy green have many health benefits, one of which is providing iron to your body. One cup of cooked spinach has 36 percent of your daily requirement. Other good choices are swiss chard, turnip greens, and kale.
  4. Meat: When you’'re choosing meats for your dinner table, it'’s best to pick lean cuts like beef with little or no marbling or skinless chicken breast. Liver is an even better choice—, it's the cut with the highest levels of iron. Because meats contain heme iron, your body will be able to make better use of more of the iron you eat.
  5. Citrus Fruits: While oranges aren'’t a good source of iron themselves, foods high in vitamin C assist in the absorption of iron. Adding some sliced oranges to your spinach salad will help your body get the most out of the iron in the spinach. Other foods high in vitamin C include red and yellow peppers and tomatoes.

Take note, there is such a thing as having too much iron in your diet, so check your iron levels with your doctor before you increase your iron intake. Want to learn more about healthy eating for older adults? Check out our blog at www.kendalnorthernohio.com.

Photo Credit: jazzijava

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