We’ve all had a day or week when we just felt… exhausted. Fatigued and weak, we just can’t keep going at our usual breakneck speed, and it’s time to take a break and binge some “Orange Is the New Black” reruns until we fall asleep (about halfway through the first episode). But what if that feeling doesn’t go away? You might have an iron deficiency, the most common nutritional deficiency, which some estimates indicate about 20 percent of American women have.
Depending on age, women need between 15 and 18 milligrams of iron per day (and up to a whopping 27 if you’re a vegetarian, since your body absorbs iron from meat more efficiently). Not sure if you’re getting enough? According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, pale or yellowish skin, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, chest pain, cold hands and feet or headaches. You may not experience all of those symptoms, though, since your experience with anemia may vary depending on the cause.
Anyone who doesn’t get enough iron is susceptible to iron-deficiency anemia, and while many women are aware it’s a higher risk during pregnancy, fewer women realize that simply being of childbearing age can put you at risk, pregnant or not—a heavy menstrual flow could also cause iron deficiency. While you should always see a doctor if you suspect you’re suffering from anemia since some of the causes are chronic or very serious (such as intestinal disorders and cancer), if you already know you’re susceptible to anemia, the best way to combat it is to eat a diet rich in iron.
But that’s where it gets complicated. Iron “richness” is a relative term. Veggies and fruits tend to have far less than grains or meats, but there’s also a push and pull—vegetables and fruits also have, when prepared correctly, far less fat and loads of other vitamins. Besides, vitamin C actually aids in iron absorption, and vitamin C is present in many fruits and vegetables and commonly used to season others. On the other hand, meats that are highest in iron are often also highest in fat—worth it for the iron boost but you can’t do that every day. Meat and grains are also far more filling, meaning you can’t eat as much at a time, so you have to make it count.
But don’t worry. An iron-rich diet isn’t as monotonously difficult as it sounds. With these delectable dishes, getting more iron isn’t just easy, it’s delicious.
Note: All nutrition information courtesy of the USDA. All iron contents are per serving of that ingredient, not per recipe, unless otherwise noted.
Sheet Pan Poblano-Chicken Fajitas
With 1.5 milligrams of iron per serving and a healthy dose of Tex-Mex spice for flavor, the chicken in these poblano-chicken fajitas is reason enough to get your restaurant-style sizzle on. For even more iron fortification, sub in parboiled rice, which has almost three times the iron of white rice.
Half Baked Harvest
Rib-Eye Steak With Garlic-Herb Butter
When it comes to cooking steak, less is often more. But when it comes to iron, well, more is more. This rib-eye steak topped with a simple but savorous garlic-herb butter got both memos. It only takes five minutes to make the compound butter that gives it its flavor, but it's loaded with 6.5 milligrams of iron.
Roasted Broccoli With Parmesan-Lemon Butter Sauce
Just because you're serving yourself up an iron-rich entrée doesn't mean you have to stop there. Nutty Parmesan cheese is grated over roasted broccoli
Joyful Healthy Eats
Superfood Quinoa Soup
This veggie soup sounds a lot like any other, with traditional herbs like thyme and oregano and typical soup veggies onions, carrots and celery. But at 5 milligrams of iron per serving, quinoa is the star of this vegan soup, perfect for filling your thermos on a cold workday. It also has iron-rich broccoli and kale (about a milligram of iron per serving).
Ricotta & Fig Oatmeal
One cup of cooked oatmeal has 13.9 milligrams of iron, and ricotta and fig oatmeal gets an extra boost from iron-rich figs. Mix those with creamy ricotta cheese and a nectarous drizzle of honey, and you've got a luscious breakfast that'll kickstart your day (and your daily iron intake).
Foxes Love Lemons
Kicking anemia's butt means snacking smart too. Chickpeas have almost a full milligram of iron per tablespoon. These chipotle-roasted chickpeas are a great on-the-go snack, but you can also toss them on salads or soups to give them an added kick of smoky chipotle goodness (oh, and some extra iron).
Half Baked Harvest
Vegetarian Tofu-Cashew-Coconut Curry
Spicy, deep and earthy, this vegetarian curry boasts 3-milligram-per-serving tofu, 2-milligram-per-serving cashews and 2.5-milligram-per serving cauliflower, making it the iron giant of snow day eats.
Hummus & Veggie Bowl
Whether you eat this bowl featuring a schmear of nutty hummus (made of those iron-packed chickpeas), quinoa (also an iron powerhouse) and cruciferous veggies (which each have about a milligram of iron per serving) and egg (almost a milligram each) for breakfast, brunch or lunch, opt to top it with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for maximum iron impact — 2 tablespoons have about a milligram of this vital mineral.
Gimme Some Oven
Tahini-Date Granola Bars With Dried Apricots
Sesame-Crusted Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad
Seared sushi-grade tuna coated in toasted sesame crunch surrounded by fresh veggies and briny Kalamata olives then drizzled with a garlicky mustard and shallot vinaigrette sounds like a dream lunch you'd get at a celeb-favorite LA eatery. And it probably is since we're sure stars have iron deficiencies too. Tuna has almost a milligram of iron per serving, but this sesame-crusted tuna gets a boost from iron-rich sesame seeds (the key ingredient in tahini), egg and red potatoes (1.6 milligrams).
Haps Nom Nom
Slow Cooker Black Bean-Quinoa-Pumpkin-Chicken Chili
In this slow cooker chili, a virtual vehicle for iron fortification, sweet pumpkin takes the edge off the heavy doses of garlic, aromatics and spices. Iron-rich chicken and quinoa get a turbo charge of the vital mineral from black beans (16 milligrams per cup). Skip the crackers and top it with those chipotle chickpeas for even more iron.
Pecan-Crusted Salmon With Lemon Glaze
The pecans on this crusted salmon don't just provide a nutty flavor and colossal crunch, they add 2.5 milligrams per cup of iron to a salmon fillet's 1.4 grams. The tangy citrus glaze, always a compliment to fish, aids in iron absorption.
Whole-Wheat Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies
What good is an iron-rich diet if you can't have dessert? Whole-wheat flour has 4.3 milligrams of iron per cup, which translates into a chocolate chip cookie that is more than just empty calories to the iron-seeking sweets obsessed. Swap the semisweet morsels in that yellow bag for dark chocolate (11.9 milligrams per 100 grams), and even you can't make yourself feel guilty for having one more.