Iron: 8 essential information to avoid deficiencies and overdose: Current Woman The MAG

This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen by red blood cells from the lungs to all organs of the body. Its deficit is harmful to health, but its excess is not desirable either. The week of hemochromatosis, a disease caused by iron overload, is also organized every year in June.

Women are more at risk of deficiency

True. One in three women lacks iron due to monthly blood loss. Heavy periods, due to the presence of uterine fibroids or endometriosis for example, further amplify the losses. Pregnant women are also often affected because the development of the placenta and the growth of the fetus increase their blood volume and therefore the need for iron. otherwise "many women eat too little red meat, one of the main sources of iron", observes Dr Laurence Plumey, author of The Great Food Book (ed. Eyrolles), which is less the case with men. According to the National Health Nutrition Study, 13.5% of women have depleted iron stores and more than 5% suffer from anemia, i.e. a notable drop in hemoglobin levels (

Warning signs: paleness of the face and great fatigue

True, but these are not the only symptoms of a deficit. Other characteristic signs are likely to appear, such as brittle nails and hair, vulnerability to infections, and small painful cracks in the corners of the lips. If anemia sets in, dizziness, vertigo, irritability, headache, and shortness of breath on exertion may occur. And if the anemia becomes even more severe, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, lack of motivation, and sometimes palpitations occur. If in doubt, your doctor will order a blood test to assess your iron stores (ferritin levels).

Avoiding meat exposes you to a deficit

True and false. As iron is not synthesized by the body, it must be obtained from food, in particular from animal products which contain good quantities (red meat, offal, etc.). Many vegetables also contain it, but this vegetable iron is only assimilated at 3 to 5%, against 20 to 30% for animal iron (called heme iron). "Its intestinal absorption can however be favored by increasing its vitamin C intake"says Dr Plumey. Vegetarians therefore have every interest in including fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C on the menu: parsley, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits or even kiwis to maximize their iron absorption.

Spinach is the richest food in iron

False. This misconception dies, deeply rooted in the minds of an entire generation by the character of Popeye. In fact, spinach is far from being well endowed with iron. Fresh, it only contains 3.6 mg per 100 g. And frozen, only 2 mg per 100 g. Many other foods are well ahead of it: black pudding (17.4 mg), pork liver (17.0 mg), lamb kidneys (12.4 mg) and red meat (4 mg). Seafood is also well stocked, especially shellfish: 7.8 mg of iron per 100 g of clams for example. And to stock up on vegetable iron, bet on cocoa powder, black olives, legumes (lentils, white beans, chickpeas), cereals, cashews, pine nuts and almonds.

Drinking tea reduces its absorption

True and false. The tannins in tea, black or green, slow down the absorption of iron by the intestine by 60 to 70%. But this is only true if the iron is absorbed along with the tea. By keeping a 45-minute delay between the two, assimilation is much better. It is therefore better to drink your tea away from meals. American doctors at Boston University have further shown that consuming large amounts of coffee also eats away at iron stores. Beyond three cups a day, each additional cup of coffee lowers reserves by 1%, according to their work published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Cooking in a cast iron skillet increases iron intake

True. American researchers have proven it: during cooking, a little iron escapes from cast iron utensils and enriches the foods simmering inside. "A tomato sauce cooked in a cast iron pan thus contains 5.77 mg of iron per 100g, compared to 0.69 mg in an ordinary pan., says Cheryl Nossaman, author of the study from the Texas University of Technology. For fried eggs, we go from 3.8 mg to 1.8 mg and for pancakes from 1.3 mg to 0.8 mg ". Not insignificant.

Excess iron is no problem

False. Too much iron affects the organs in which it accumulates: liver, heart, pancreas, skin … Result: the body ages prematurely. This is what happens with hemochromatosis, the most common genetic disease in France, which results in excessive absorption of iron from food. One in 300 people is affected, often without knowing it. The iron, stored since birth, operates its undermining work on the sly until the inconveniences appear (decline in tone, joint pain, loss of libido, etc.) around 35 years old in women (earlier, around 20 years old, in humans). These disorders are often misinterpreted and blamed on overwork. Yet a simple blood test can diagnose hemochromatosis and prevent unnecessary complications. More info on

Needs are lower after 50 years

True. Before menopause, the recommended nutritional intake of iron is 16 mg per day for women. Once the ovaries are at rest, the needs decrease following the disappearance of the rules. They become equivalent to those of men, or 11 mg per day according to the latest official recommendations.

"Watch out for self-medication"

Angélique Houlbert, dietitian-nutritionist *

"In high doses, iron can do more harm than good because it promotes oxidation and inflammation of the body. As a precaution, those taking multivitamin supplements should therefore avoid products that contain iron. growing adolescent girls and women wearing a copper IUD are often deficient, as their periods are heavy. In the event of persistent fatigue, they can supplement themselves with iron in self-medication, but for a maximum of one month. taking cannot be considered without a blood test and prior medical advice to avoid a possible overload.The best tolerated supplements – without stomach aches or constipation – are those based on iron bisglycinates (Solgar, Vital +, Orfito). as they are also better assimilated, the doses can be limited: 25 to 30 mg per day is sufficient ".

* author of The New IG Regime (edited by Thierry Souccar)

Read also:

⋙ Hemochromatosis: what is this genetic disease caused by an excess of iron?

⋙ Iron deficiency: what naturopathic solutions to correct anemia?

⋙ Vegetarian diet: what are the risks of deficiencies and how to compensate for them?