Getting in enough iron in the diet is super important for your overall health, as iron can impact your mood and energy levels, as well as your circulation. If you're deficient in this essential mineral, you might become anemic, where you could encounter a slew of unfortunate symptoms.
Of course, anyone is at risk; however, if you're not eating enough in the day, are working out excessively, or a vegan or vegetarian, your risk might be higher. Why, for the latter? Iron is more readily absorbed by animal protein, so you'll need a whole lot more veggie, plant-based sources to meet those requirements.
What's more, you can affect iron uptake based on what other foods and drinks you're consuming, says Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, NYC-based Registered Dietician, bestselling author, and founder of The F-Factor Diet. For instance, oxalates, which are found in spinach and tea, for instance, can block absorption of iron, while vitamin C rich foods, like citrus, can boost uptake.
If you think your levels might be low, or you notice any of these 5 symptoms below, you could very well be deficient. Check your blood work with a physician to get some answers.
Impaired Cognitive Function
According to Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, your body and brain need iron to fight fatigue and maintain awareness during the day. Without adequate blood flow to the brain, you might notice that "brain fog," which can certainly knock you down in terms of productivity. Iron helps maintain mood and stamina, says Moon, so without it, you'll be a bit slower and sluggish, and your memory might suffer.
Getting sick too often? It could be related to iron levels, says Moon. People who are anemic are often down with the sniffles, as the body can't effectively fight germs when in a compromised, tired state. Of course, getting sick during the winter seems pretty typical, but if you're always a little under the weather, it could definitely be a malnutrition issue, she says.
If you can't make it through that set of burpees (and you used to crush them hard), it could be linked to poor diet and inadequate iron levels, says Moon. When you're not getting your daily requirements, you will feel tired and low in energy throughout the day, and your workouts will subsequently suffer. The best move here is to eat foods that have iron in them throughout the day to make sure you're fueling your body well. And, be sure to eat something before that workout for an extra immediate boost.
When you're anemic, you have poor circulation, and so it's common to have impaired body temperature regulation, says Moon. Most commonly, you might notice excessive coldness, especially in the body parts where blood flow lacks, such as hands, fingers, and feet. If you feel as though your body temperature is off (perhaps people you're with are really hot somewhere and you're frigid), you might want to speak with a professional and get your iron levels tested.
Low Energy and Mood Swings
Moon also says that low iron levels can affect your energy and mood, where you might experience emotional swings, confusion, and muscle and joint weakness (due to the physical fatigue aspect of anemia). When there's not enough iron to power your brain and body, it can throw your body off balance, where it can't think clearly or make rational decisions, for instance. If you find yourself to be "unlike yourself," or slow to "get" things that are going on around you, you should probably get some blood work.