If you’ve tried to donate blood, but where turned down because of low hemoglobin levels, it’s likely you are low in iron. Women during the childbearing years are at particular risk, as are children and teenagers. A woman who has been pregnant in the past 2 years, consumes less than 2,000 calories daily, or exercises frequently and vigorously is at particularly high risk.

Iron is the key oxygen-carrier in the body. Without ample carriers, the tissues literally suffocate for oxygen and the signs of deficiency reflect this, including fatigue, feeling sluggish, poor concentration, and increased susceptibility to colds and infections.

Anemia is the final stage of iron deficiency. For months, years, even decades a person can be iron deficient and never progress to anemia. In fact, only about 8% of women actually become anemic, while anywhere between 20% and 80% of women are iron deficient. Long before the onset of anemia, tissue iron reserves are drained. But the symptoms are the same and go undetected. Routinely physicians only test for iron deficiency with tests for anemia, called the hemoglobin and hematocrit tests, while more subtle iron deficiency goes unnoticed. That’s why if you suspect you are iron deficient, request a more sensitive test, such as serum ferritin or total iron binding capacity (TIBC).

Simple, Painless Tips to Boost Iron:
1. Always consume a vitamin C-rich food with every meal, such as orange juice, watermelon, or broccoli. Vitamin C increases iron absorption from nonheme iron and counteracts some of the iron inhibitors in foods, such as phytates in whole grains.
2. Consuming small amounts of heme iron in red meat, such as extra lean beef, with large amounts of non-heme iron, such as chili beans, increases the absorption of non-heme iron. Pork in a vegetable stir fry and spaghetti with meatballs are other examples.
3. Cook in cast iron pots. The iron leaches out of the pot and into the food, increasing the iron content of a meal.
4. Select iron-fortified foods.
5. Drink tea and coffee between meal, since tannins in these beverages (caffeinated or decaffeinated, black or herbal) significantly lower iron absorption.