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Articles Fitness Nutrition

Understanding Iron Nutrition for Women

Dec 13, 2009

It's important to understand why iron nutrition is important for women, in order to ensure proper amounts of iron intake in the diet. Iron is a mineral that's required to help the red blood cells transport oxygen to the rest of the body. Women require more iron than men for a variety of reasons, including menstruation. Use Fitday to track your iron intake.

Functions and Benefits of Iron

Iron has three main functions in the body, which include:

  • Assistance in transporting and storing oxygen
  • Assistance in energy production and cell respiration
  • Boosting the immune system, by helping to produce white blood cells to fight bacteria

Why Are Women More Susceptible to Being Iron Deficient?

Many women are iron deficient, which can deplete their energy levels and cause fatigue. One of the main reasons why women require higher levels of iron than men is because of their menstrual period. The blood loss experienced during menstruation further depletes the woman's body of iron. Women lose an average of one quarter of a cup of blood during each menstrual cycle. Since iron travels though the blood, a lot of it can be lost during a woman's menstrual period.

There are other reasons why a woman may become iron deficient besides menstruation. These reasons include:

  • Diet low in iron
  • Diet low in vitamin C
  • Frequent dieting

Iron Intake during Pregnancy

Blood plasma volume increases by 50% during pregnancy. As such, iron content in the blood becomes more diluted. Pregnant women require a greater amount of iron because of this expanded red blood cell volume, to meet the needs of the baby and placenta, and the mother herself. In addition, much blood is lost at delivery, which makes it important to take even more iron during the second and third trimesters. It's quite common for pregnant women to become anemic.

Recommended Daily Dosage of Iron

The amount of iron that a woman requires in her diet depends on her age and stage of life. Women who are in their childbearing years generally require about 15mg of iron per day. Women who are pregnant should be consuming about 30mg per day, and lactating and breastfeeding women should take 10mg of iron daily. Women who are menopausal can lower their iron intake to 10mg per day.

Only 15% of the iron we consume is absorbed by our bodies. If you consume 15mg of iron per day, your body is actually only absorbing about 2.25mg of iron. Taking vitamin C supplements will help the body absorb more iron.

Sources of Iron

The following list contains some iron-rich foods, and their associated iron content:

  • Red meats (3 oz.): 3mg
  • Liver (3 oz.): 8mg
  • Bran cereals (1 cup): 6.3mg
  • Broccoli (1 cup): 1.4mg
  • Kidney beans (half cup): 1.6mg
  • Potato: 4mg

Certain foods can inhibit the absorption of iron, such as milk, cheese and tea, which should not be consumed at the same time as the iron-rich foods. This is because these types of foods contain high levels of calcium, which has been known to interfere with the absorption of iron. Pregnant women are more likely to be recommended to increase the amount of iron nutrition they're taking in with an iron supplement, to maximize the body's absorption of this mineral.

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