If you have been told that you have low iron stores or are anemic, you are not alone. Iron deficiency anemia is the world’s most common nutritional deficiency, and the WHO estimates that anemia affects 29.4% of women of childbearing age globally.
Diet changes that can help with anemia or iron deficiency
Although it is not clear how iron deficiency may affect fertility, a few studies have suggested that your chances of becoming pregnant may improve if you take iron supplements to improve your iron status.
So why is your iron status important for TTC? Starting out your pregnancy with low iron can increase the risk of pregnancy anemia, which may lead to pre-term labor, low birth weight and infant mortality. In addition, when you are pregnant you need more iron to increase your blood volume, which provides oxygen to you and your baby. Although this may seem worrying, the good news is that there are many ways to improve your iron by consuming iron-rich foods in your diet!
There are two different kinds of iron in foods: heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes mainly from animal proteins, while non-heme iron can be found in plant-based foods. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body, which is why vegetarians may need even more iron than meat-eaters. Below are a list of iron-rich foods:
- Lean beef
- Poultry (especially dark meat)
- Lean pork
- Fish and seafood (like oysters, sardines and tuna)
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Beans, seeds, and nuts
- Whole grains
- Enriched flours
- Dark leafy greens
- Dark chocolate
To get the most iron out of vegetarian-based meals, enjoy them with foods that have vitamin C. This combination helps absorb the non-heme iron. For example, eat broccoli with tomatoes, breakfast cereal with an orange, or bean salad with bell peppers and pineapple. On the flip-side, calcium can reduce the absorption of iron, so it is best to separate calcium food and supplements from your iron foods.
Even though many foods have iron, your doctor may recommend taking a supplement. If so, look for a supplement that contains vitamin C to increase absorption, and to avoid constipation and stomach aches that may come with taking iron. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of iron for women 19 to 50 years old is 18 mg per day, going up to 27 mg per day for pregnant women.
As you can see, it’s possible to improve your nutrition just by enjoying yummy foods! Talk with your doctor if you have questions about your iron, anemia, or before making any changes to your diet or supplementation.
About the author: Jennifer is a dietitian passionate about connecting good nutrition with tasty food. She runs a private practice, Nourish for Life, where she works with new moms and parents of young children to help them eat well and have a healthy relationship with food. She is a mom of one tiny human and two fur-babies, and loves creating yummy new recipes in her free time.
- Aranda N, et al. Pre-pregnancy iron reserves, iron supplementation during pregnancy, and birth weight. Early Hum Dev. 2011 Dec;87(12):791-7.
- Chavarro JE, et al. Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Nov;108(5):1145-52.
- Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies. Available at: https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dri-tables-and-application-reports. Accessed May 31, 2017.
- Kaiser LL, Campbell CG. Practice Paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Abstract: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 2014; 7:1099-1103.
- WHO. The global prevalence of anaemia in 2011. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Accessed May 31, 2017.