Menstrual Cycle More Iron for Women

In your childbearing years you need more iron than men do. Why? To replace iron loss from menstrual flow. On average, women lose about !/4 cup of blood with each menstrual period. Those with a heavy flow may lose more. For women who don't replace that iron, menstrual loss—combined with low iron intake, frequent dieting, and a low vitamin C intake— contribute to iron deficiency and perhaps to anemia.

The Dietary Guidelines advise women of child-bearing age: Eat foods high in heme-iron and/or consume iron-rich plant foods or iron-fortified foods with an enhancer of iron absorption, such as vitamin C-rich foods. For women ages nineteen to fifty, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron is 18 milligrams of iron daily. During pregnancy, the recommendation increases to 27 milligrams daily. To compare, adult men need only 8 milligrams of iron daily. With menopause, a woman's need for iron drops and equals that of men.

To get enough iron from food, eat iron-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fortified cereal, enriched rice, and legumes. Remember that iron from grain products, legumes, and eggs isn't absorbed as well. So enjoy these foods with vitamin C-rich foods: perhaps citrus fruit with your morning cereal or scrambled egg. Consult your healthcare provider about an iron supplement, too. For more about iron and food sources, see "Iron: A Closer Look " in chapter 4. See chapter 22 for "Anemia: 'TiredBlood'" and "Iron Supplements: Enhancing the Benefit" in chapter 23.

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