smoothies for low iron

It seems there’s no end to what we can do with smoothies because today we’re looking at how to make smoothies for low iron.

Low iron is a major problem for some of us either because of heavy periods, stress or other factors related to diet and lifestyle.

And having low iron for an extended period of time eventually leads to iron deficiency anemia, which impacts our health in various ways.

So, in this post we’re going to look at the effects of low iron on the body, iron-rich food sources and how to use them in a smoothie.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BODY WHEN YOU ARE ANEMIC

When the body is anemic that means there are not enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.

As a result of not getting enough oxygen, two main things occur:

  • Various processes in the body don’t work correctly.
  • You feel extremely tired and fatigued.

Because anemia affects various bodily functions, the symptoms can vary widely from one person to another.

However, some of the most common signs of anemia include (1, 2):

  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • feeling cranky or irritable
  • restless leg syndrome
  • cold hands and feet
  • frequent infections
  • pale skin color (gums, inside of lips, inside of lower eyelids and nails)
  • dry hair, skin and nails
  • cravings for ice or more starchy foods
  • headaches (sometimes accompanied by dizziness)
  • changes in the tongue: swollen, dry, pale or a texture that is too smooth
  • changes in the mouth: dryness, sores, cracks

WHAT IS A LOW IRON LEVEL FOR A WOMAN?

For women with iron deficiency anemia iron levels below 10 micromoles per liter (mmol/L) is considered low.

However, keep in mind that measuring the amount of iron in your blood isn’t enough to accurately diagnose anemia.

This is because your blood levels can be normal while the total amount in your entire body (tissues and muscles, for example) is still low.

So, when testing for anemia doctors typically check other things such as (3, 4, 5) :

  • Ferritin: this is a protein that stores iron. Low ferritin usually indicates iron deficiency.
  • Hematocrit: this measures the percentage of your blood that is made up of red blood cells. The normal range for adult women is 35.5% to 44.9%.
  • Hemoglobin: this is the protein in your red blood cells that transports oxygen. The normal range for adult women is 11.6 to 15. g/dL. A lower count usually signals insufficient iron.
  • Red blood cell color and size: red blood cells that are smaller and pale in color generally occur with iron-deficiency anemia.
smoothies for low iron closeup of berries

HOW IRON DEFICIENCY CONTRIBUTES TO WEIGHT GAIN

According to some studies, there’s a link between low iron and weight gain.

And that link is the thyroid.

You see, the thyroid is responsible for regulating our metabolism. 

And that means the thyroid has a direct impact on our ability to lose or gain weight.

Now, what’s interesting is that iron is necessary for the production of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).

So, this means that low iron levels contribute to both anemia and thyroid dysfunction (more commonly hypothyroidism, but sometimes hyperthyroidism).

In fact, the numbers indicate that 43% of people with hypothyroid symptoms also have anemia (compared to 29% in the general population).

Furthermore, a small study done with women who have hypothyroidism, showed that even after treatment with levothyroxine (a thyroid drug) 30 to 50% of them still had symptoms that were likely due to anemia.

While more research is needed, the main thing to note here is that iron is important for thyroid hormones.

Therefore, low iron affects the thyroid, which affects your metabolism and ultimately, your weight.

BEST FOODS TO EAT FOR IRON DEFICIENCY

prunes as one of the best foods to eat for iron deficiency

If you’ve been wondering, which fruits are high in iron or which nut is highest in iron, then this is for you!

There are two types of iron in food: heme (from animals) and non-heme (from plants).

And within both categories, there are various foods that you can enjoy!

Now, since we’ll be making smoothie recipes for low iron, we will be using plant-based ingredients.

However, below is a list of both heme and non-heme sources of iron (source).

  • Fresh fruits like avocados, prunes, mulberry and olives 
  • Dried fruit (particularly apricots, prunes and raisins)
  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard, chard, beet greens and so on).
  • All legumes (red beans, black beans, lima beans, chickpeas, lentils, black eyed peas and so on).
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, etc.)
  • Sea vegetables like spirulina and kelp.
  • Maca root
  • Tomato paste
  • Grains like quinoa, oats, spelt and amaranth
  • Coconut milk
  • Herbs like thyme, parsley and spearmint
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • White mushrooms and oyster mushrooms
  • Potato (with the skin)
  • Cacao powder
  • Fish (best are sardines, tuna, salmon, haddock, halibut and perch).
  • All meats (beef, lamb and venison have the most iron. Poultry has less. Organ meats, like liver, also have iron).

WHAT PREVENTS ABSORPTION OF IRON AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

In general, the following foods or compounds are said to inhibit or reduce iron absorption (particularly from plant foods) (6, 7):

Things That Reduce Iron Absorption
Tannins in teas (black, green and some herbal teas)
Herbal teas that are high in polyphenols (chamomile, peppermint, vervain and others)
Phytates in legumes, tea and coffee
Oxalates in leafy greens, tea and coffee
Caffeine and high fiber foods

And to boost iron absorption, the popular general recommendations are:

  • Vitamin C: significantly increases absorption (specifically, for plant sources of iron).
  • Also, foods that are high in vitamin A and beta carotene (sweet potatoes, carrots, papaya) can also increase iron absorption.
  • Drink tea or coffee in between meals instead of during a meal.

However, please take all of this with a grain of salt 🙂

After all, spinach actually has vitamin C in it. So, technically speaking spinach already has everything built into it to facilitate iron absorption.

Second, maca (another iron source) also has calcium (which some say, could inhibit iron absorption).

So, given all this should we conclude that nature doesn’t know what she’s doing? Or could it be that we need to look at things more holistically?

Well, here are a few things to consider before you stress out too much about all of the points outlined above:

  • The health of the digestive system is the biggest factor in whether or not we absorb nutrients from food (or supplements). So, keep this in mind.
  • An in-depth review of studies suggest that calcium’s inhibitory effect on iron absorption is only short-term. Studies that look at long-term calcium supplementation show that it doesn’t have a negative effect on iron (source).
  • Labs sometimes (not always) isolate compounds and test them individually. This can lend very different results from eating whole foods in a real life scenario.
  • No food has been fully and totally researched. 10 or 50 years from now, we might get new information about all this. But the information that is available now is only based on what has been funded for research up until this moment in time.
  • If you focus more on eating enough whole, unprocessed foods your body is better able to regulate itself.
  • Please don’t stress out over the things that the scientific community is still figuring out. At the end of the day, a well-balanced smoothie (and overall diet/lifestyle) gets the job done. 

That said, if you’d rather be extra cautious, then keep these tips in mind when making your smoothie:

  • Use foods that are known to be very high in vitamin C (papayas, kiwi, strawberries and lychees for example)
  • Use water for most of your smoothie recipes (if you want to avoid the calcium from things like yogurt or almond milk).

Above all else, listen to your body and pay attention to what actually improves your symptoms. 

GREEN SMOOTHIE RECIPES FOR LOW IRON

green smoothie recipes for low iron

Now it’s time to make our iron-boosting green smoothies (which are “green” because of the spinach content).

You’ll notice that just about every ingredient in these recipes provides iron (of course, some more than others).

Now, having said that these smoothies are not intended to give your entire daily requirement for iron.

Also, keep in mind that for women, daily iron requirements are:

  • 18mg for non-pregnant women aged 19-50
  • 27mg for pregnant women.

Blueberry Cherry and Hemp Seed Smoothie (1 serving)

1 fresh medium-sized bananas (0.31mg iron)

1 cup spinach (0.81mg iron)

1 cup frozen blueberries (0.4mg iron plus vitamin C)

½ cup frozen cherries (0.3mg iron plus vitamin C)

1 tbsp hemp seeds (0.79mg iron)

1/2 cup water

IRON CONTENT: 2.61mg (14.5% of recommended daily intake)

Avocado Blueberry and Hemp Seed Smoothie (1 serving)

1 fresh medium-sized bananas (0.31mg iron)

1 cup spinach (0.81mg iron)

1.5 cup frozen blueberries (0.6mg iron plus vitamin C)

½ fresh, ripe avocado (0.4 mg iron plus vitamin C)

1 tbsp hemp seeds (0.79mg iron)

1/2 -3/4 cup water (depending on your preferred thickness, avocado adds creaminess to smoothies)

IRON CONTENT: 2.91mg (16% of recommended daily intake)


If you have two servings a day of these smoothies (works great as a healthy mid-afternoon snack) that covers approximately 30% of what you need for the day.

And we haven’t even talked about lunch and dinner which you can load up with more iron-rich foods like beans or fish.

When it’s all said and done, combining the smoothie with a rainbow of iron sources makes it easy to get the iron you need in one day without too much fuss.

RELATED QUESTIONS

How can I raise my iron levels quickly?

Consume a variety of iron-rich foods and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure to include vitamin C-rich foods in your meals (to boost absorption of plant iron).

Can stress lower iron levels?

Yes, some animal studies indicate that elevated, chronic stress lowers blood levels of iron and also inhibits iron absorption (8, 9)

CONCLUSION

As you can see there are a variety of foods that you can eat for optimal iron levels.

And feel free to play around with the smoothie recipe I’ve shared with you.

You can use almond milk instead of water (to get more iron) or replace hemp seeds with another seed like pumpkin.

Rotating these ingredients will keep you from getting bored with the same recipe.

As always if you have any questions or feedback, just drop a comment below 🙂


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