When it comes to most essential vitamins and minerals, typical speaking men need more of them than women.
Iron is one exception: Women need to be intaking more iron than men. It’s recommended women consume 18 mg of iron per day. Most women don’t know they need this much iron, don’t pay attention to their daily intake, and boom suddenly they’re overcome by constant fatigue, and other symptoms signalling iron-deficiency, and discover they’re anemic. If it gets really bad—if iron levels drop too low—sometimes a blood transfusion is even required. Yeah, you want to avoid that…
Truth be told, close to 50 percent of adult women and 75 percent of teenaged girls don’t get enough iron from their food. In other words, they’re not consuming the requisite 18 mg a day.
What does 18 mg of iron look like?
Let’s consider spinach, which is often considered a good source of iron. There are 2.71 mg of iron in 100 grams of spinach. This means you should be eating the equivalent of close to 700 g of spinach a day. Maybe that’s do-able if the spinach is cooked and reduced to nothing, but 700 g of raw spinach would be a tough, tough salad to get down in one sitting.
Beef is another good source of iron. 100 grams of beef has 2.4 mg of iron. So, you’d need to devour a 750-g steak to get your daily iron requirement. Not impossible for a 225 lb. man, but most women aren’t wanting, or even capable, of taking down a 26 oz. steak from what I have witnessed.
If you’re diligent about eating foods that are high in iron—like steak, spinach and other leafy greens and various nuts—for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you definitely can get enough iron from your diet. However, if you’re not a big eater or tend to stray from red meat and leafy greens, chances are you might need an iron supplement, especially during times when you need to pay extra attention to your iron intake. Two notable times include:
As you know, blood gets lost during this time of the month, and this can affect the iron content in your body, especially if you get heavy periods. Generally, even if you’re not a heavy bleeder, 1 mg of iron gets lost each day of your period. Sooooo….5 or 6 mg are gone just like that!
It goes without saying then that it’s often recommended to increase iron just before and during this time of the month. At the very least, include more foods high in iron during this time.
Also, there’s evidence that taking an iron supplement can actually make your period more bearable, and not just because it will ensure you don’t feel fatigued and tired from not getting enough iron. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that iron helps with the formation of melatonin, a hormone that decreases PMS-induced mood swings, and even cramping and bloating. So definitely something to consider, perhaps? You can read more here if it piques your interest.
That being said, for some it might be best to just eat enough iron in your diet, as iron supplements do sometimes have some side effects on some people, such as constipation and diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and at the very least they sometimes leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Iron is also especially important for the placenta during pregnancy. And get this, the iron your fetus gets during the time in your womb needs to last him/her for six months after he/she is born. This is often why women often take a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy: Vitamin C helps your body absorb the 27 mg of iron you need during pregnancy. Yeah, that’s right. You no longer need just 18 mg of iron a day. You need 27 mg when you’re preggers.
If you’re someone who is opposed to taking a supplement but know your diet isn’t delivering the iron you need, check out this article. It’s full of meal ideas that are high in iron. And they look pretty delicious, too.
Take iron seriously, ladies. Not just by becoming an Ironwoman at the gym, but consuming it, too. Your body will thank you with improved energy levels and overall health.