Iron deficiency in women

Iron deficiency in women is relatively common in women of childbearing age, the main culprit: monthly menstruation and blood loss. How can women prevent iron deficiency? What are the causes of an iron deficiency? What are the symptoms and characteristics of a woman with iron deficiency? How do you recognize iron deficiency? What are the symptoms of a woman with excess iron? Is an iron deficiency the first step to anemia? Why are people with anemia so tired?

Guidelines for good food choice Nutrition Center

Very few Dutch people consume sufficient nutrients every day, even if the guidelines of the Nutrition Center on the right food choice are followed. We risk a deficiency of six important micronutrients, despite following the recommendations of the Nutrition Center. The nutrition center readily recognizes these resulting shortages.

Deficiency of six important micronutrients.

Anyone who eats strictly according to the recommendations of the Nutrition Center, such as the Wheel of Five, runs the risk of a deficiency of the following six important micronutrients:

  • folic acid,
  • Vitamin D,
  • Vitamin A,
  • Selenium,
  • Sink
  • Iron.

Risk group: women

If we were to focus entirely on the nutritional advice of the Nutrition Center and follow the Wheel of Five, serious shortages could arise! If we now focus on iron intake, it appears that (young) women in particular belong to the risk group!
Women aged 20 to 49 years are the main risk group for developing iron deficiencies, iron deficiency or even anemia. Monthly blood loss plays the absolute most important role here: whoever loses blood also loses iron. However, women on the pill have relatively less blood loss and therefore have a reduced risk of iron deficiency.

Is an iron deficiency bad?

Serious iron deficiencies are bad. Anemia is the result of iron deficiency and iron deficiency.

Average iron intake

During a study by the RIVM in 2003 together with TNO nutrition, the average iron intake of women at 9.4 mg per day was far below the Recommended Daily Allowance of 15 mg!

Nutrition and iron absorption

This outcome among Dutch women shows that only 63% of iron is absorbed through our diet. These results are shocking when you realize that the actual absorption of iron from the intestines into the blood has not been taken into account! Absorption of iron in the blood is not the same as eating iron through our diet.

Iron utilization

In general, only a very small part of the iron from our diet is absorbed and utilized. Depending on the type of iron offered in our food.

Two forms of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron.

Iron occurs in two different forms in our food: heme iron and non-heme iron.

  • Haem iron: is part of hemoglobin and myoglobin in poultry, fish and meat.
  • Non-haem iron: refers to the iron salts in plant foods.

Utilization of two forms of iron

On average, only 25% of heme iron is absorbed by the body.
The absorption of non-haem iron is promoted by vitamin C. Vitamin C keeps the non-haem iron in a soluble form. It is therefore recommended for women to consume a form of vitamin C as a food with every meal, such as:

  • Fresh fruit,
  • Vegetable,
  • potatoes,
  • Orange or
  • Grapefruit juice.

Foods that hinder iron absorption

Conversely, there are of course also foods that prevent the absorption of non-haem iron, such as:

  • Tea,
  • Coffee,
  • Red wine,
  • Dairy products.

Calcium and iron

Scientists are not yet completely convinced: calcium seems to counteract the absorption of both haem iron and non-haem iron. A dairy-rich dessert after an iron-rich meal therefore seems not to be highly recommended.

Meat: important iron supplier

Meat appears to be a very important iron supplier when we look at the absorption of iron. Meat contains excellent haem iron that is very easily absorbed. Meat also has a very positive influence on the intake of non-haem iron!
Beef contains more iron than, for example, pork or poultry. Spinach, contrary to popular belief, contains very little iron. Lettuce and parsley contain more iron than spinach! In addition, only 1% of spinach’s iron is absorbed by the body.

Vegetarians: increased risk of iron deficiency

Vegetarians do not eat meat. Since meat is a very important iron supplier, vegetarians have an increased risk of having an iron deficiency! It is recommended that vegetarians combat iron deficiency as much as possible by:

  • More foods to use with vitamin C,
  • Eat more eggs,
  • Eat a lot of soy products such as bean curd or tempeh,
  • Lots and more legumes,
  • Use a multivitamin that contains iron.

Recognize iron deficiency

Many vague signs and symptoms are associated with iron deficiency, iron deficiency and even anemia. 90% of all cases of anemia are due to iron deficiencies!


To be honest, having anemia is a very strange term. It suggests that someone has a blood shortage. However, anemia (or anemia) has much more to do with the quality of the blood than the quantity of blood. Iron plays a crucial role in the quality of our blood.

Hemoglobin: an explanation why people with anemia are so tired

Our body needs iron to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a connection of a protein (globin) in our body with an iron-containing dye (haem!) and ensures the transport of oxygen through the blood. Hemoglobin absorbs oxygen from the lungs and delivers this oxygen to other body cells. These cells need oxygen to burn their food to release energy. This is also an explanation why people with anemia are so tired.

Symptoms and characteristics of iron deficiency and iron deficiencies:

  • Fatigue,
  • listlessness,
  • palpitations,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Persistent headache,
  • Dizziness.

Symptoms and characteristics of iron deficiency and iron deficiencies in children:

Concentration problems,
tired from school, lack of appetite.

Body signs of iron deficiency and iron deficiency:

  • crumbly fingernails,
  • Torn corners of mouth,
  • The inside of the lower eyelid is pale instead of pinkish red.

Diagnose anemia

To determine whether someone has too low a hemoglobin level (read: anemia), it can only really be determined after a blood test.

Suspect iron deficiency, iron deficiency or anemia?

As soon as you suspect that there may be anemia, iron deficiency or iron deficiencies, make an appointment with your doctor. Carrying out a blood test is a routine task for the GP. Under no circumstances should you take extra iron on your own by taking iron preparations. Anyone who consumes too much iron runs the risk of iron overload. Too much iron causes liver damage and cardiovascular disease.