Illustrated by Zhang Qingyun.
Do you find yourself running low on energy, even when you've logged a restful eight hours of shuteye? Do you get that deep-in-your-bones fatigue just from your daily activities? Do you just feel generally droopy at times? If you just can't seem to perk up, it might not be your lifestyle: You could be one of the many women suffering from iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency is actually the number one nutritional deficiency in the world — and iron is absolutely essential for energy levels. Iron is involved in hemoglobin production, the part of the red blood cell that transports oxygen to all your cells. Without the proper iron levels, your red blood cells can't carry that all-important oxygen to where your body needs it. It's like loading up a pickup truck with only half the materials it can hold — you'll run out of stuff much quicker.
One slightly graphic way to gauge whether you might be suffering from an iron deficiency is to use the "Tampon Test" — don't worry, it's nothing gross. If you find that you need to change your tampon every two hours, then your period might be heavy enough to be depleting your iron levels. Beyond all the hormonal fluctuations that we ladies already experience at that time of the month, low iron levels are another sneaky culprit that can make us feel subpar.
Though you'll need a blood test to properly determine your iron levels, if you've been feeling extra-tired for more than a month, look paler than usual, and have dry or brittle nails, then you might want to get checked out. Especially since reversing the effects can often be as supplementing your diet with delicious iron-rich foods like steak...or kale.
For the meat-eaters among us, animal protein is actually the best source of iron out there: Eat chicken livers, beef, lean chicken. Unfortunately for vegetarians, the type of iron found in beans and vegetables isn't absorbed as readily by our bodies. But, eating lots of leafy green veggies, dried fruits, and beans will help boost your levels.
One good trick to remember: Eating food rich in vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods can increase your body's absorption of iron. Also, weirdly, simmering sauces and sautéing veggies in a cast-iron skillet can triple the amount of iron in your food — it just gets absorbed right into the liquid.
A good rule of thumb is that women need 18 milligrams of iron per day to stay healthy. So, keep that in mind and then head over to PopSugar to see the exact number of milligrams of iron in all your favorite foods. (PopSugar)