Low iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the U.S. Almost 10% of women are iron deficient, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but many people do not know what a vital nutrient it is.

Iron transports oxygen through your body. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Hemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body’s iron.

That’s one reason why, if you are low in iron, you may feel exhausted or fatigue easily with moderate exertion. You may also have decreased brain function and an impaired immune system.

Iron is also important for healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.

Young women, ages 9 to 13 need about 8 grams of iron. Starting in adolescence, a woman’s iron needs increase due to losing blood each menstrual cycle. Women through about age 50 need 18 grams of iron daily.

Here are some great ways to get iron through food. If this is not adequate, talk to your provider about adding an iron supplement.

  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Clams, oysters, sardines
  • Beef and pork
  • Pork and beans
  • Chili con carne
  • Spinach
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Raisins, dried apricots/figs/prunes
  • Prune juice
  • Dried peas, beans
  • Fortified breakfast cereals (check your labels!)