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How to Spot an Iron Deficiency and How to Fix It

            Being tired is a pretty constant factor of college life. Be it due to tenting, going out one night too many or a full night of studying, tiredness is an all-too-familiar companion. It’s important to realize, though, that sometimes exhaustion isn’t normal.

            Last month, I went to Student Health for a checkup. I was feeling much more tired than usual and—due to a spell of mono last semester—I wanted to make sure everything was okay. Sure enough, my iron levels were far below normal… something I should have been more wary of as a female pescetarian (two risk factors). As iron is necessary to create hemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen around the body, the deficiency was causing tiredness, headaches and a bit of dizziness. I wrote these symptoms off for weeks, thinking they were just the product of my abysmal sleep schedule.

            The doctor told me to begin taking over the counter iron supplements, which I easily bought for a few dollars at the student pharmacy. While they’re a bit annoying to take—they absorb best one hour before or two hours after meals—I already feel less sluggish than I did before the deficiency was diagnosed. To complement the supplements, though, I’ve recently tried to be more aware of including iron in my diet. Here are a few of the foods I’ve been trying to eat more:

1. Shellfish 

While I don’t really like clams and oysters, the most iron-rich varieties of shellfish, I’ve been trying to eat more shrimp and scallops. As fish and meats are full of heme iron, more readily absorbed into the body than non-heme plant-based foods, shellfish are one of the best sources of iron I have on my pescetarian diet.

2. Spinach

While the protein in spinach is non-heme, spinach also contains a bunch of vitamin C, which facilitates iron absorption. Like how I drink orange juice while taking my iron pills, spinach provides iron while also increasing absorption rates.

3. Legumes

Already a favorite due to their high protein content, legumes are also a great source of iron. Even better, they contain high amounts of fiber, helping me stay full throughout the day.

4. Dark chocolate

Possibly using iron as an excuse to eat more sweets, I’ve tried to eat a bit more dark chocolate. It has a significant amount of iron, but also other helpful minerals and fiber. The higher the cocoa concentration, the greater the benefits; it’s recommended to eat chocolate of at least 70% cocoa.

5. Snacks!

Incorporating high in iron snacks like fortified cereals, nuts, and seeds is an easy eay to add iron on the go. Whatever you’re snacking on, make it iron-filled!

I am a senior at Duke University, majoring in art history and minoring in political science and psychology. Outside of class, I love traveling, watching films and writing. I'm excited to be Duke's campus correspondent this upcoming school year!
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