You’re smart to be thinking about pumping up your iron levels while trying to conceive. As you’ve heard, there does seem to be a link between iron and fertility. In one study, researchers found that women who took iron supplements had a significantly lower risk of ovulatory infertility (an inability to produce healthy baby-making eggs) than those who didn't supplement.
But before you rush out to buy iron supplements, here is what you need to know:
Not all women need supplements (but they do need iron).Experts say more research is needed before they’d recommend iron supplements to all women as a fertility booster. But even if iron isn’t recommended as a fertility booster for you specifically, you’ll still want to beef up your iron stores the natural way before you get pregnant. Iron is one of the minerals that your future baby-to-be will siphon from you — and too little iron at the start of pregnancy can put you at risk for anemia during pregnancy and afterward (when you need all the energy you can get to take care of your baby).
Talk to your doctor. Your best bet when it comes to thinking about iron, fertility and pregnancy? Discuss your nutrition with your practitioner and ask to get a blood test that will check your iron levels. If your test results indicate that you could use iron supplements, you and your doctor can work together to determine an appropriate dose for you. If your iron levels are healthy, then you may not need a separate iron supplement, but you’ll still want to make sure you take a prenatal vitamin every day (most of which include about 27 mg of iron).
Eat iron-rich foods. Every day, pregnant women need to aim for about 27 mg of iron. The most easily absorbed iron — called heme iron — is found in animal sources, such as meat, poultry and fish. The other form of iron — called non-heme iron — comes from plant sources. However because of its chemical structure, it's more difficult for the intestines to absorb. But don’t disregard non-heme iron — it’s still worth your while. In fact, heme iron helps improve the absorption of non-heme iron, so eating food sources of both forms of iron at the same time is ideal.
The easiest way to get as much bang for your nutrition buck when eating iron-rich foods? Pair them with vitamin-C-rich foods — which boosts iron absorption. So go ahead and top that burger with a tomato slice or two, sprinkle strawberries in your oatmeal, and follow that PB&J sandwich with an OJ chaser.
Need some more ideas? Here are some foods rich in iron and vitamin C:
Foods rich in heme iron:
- Liver paté, 1/4 cup (5 mg)
- Lean beef, 3 oz braised (2 mg)
- Lean pork, 3 oz ground and cooked (1 mg)
- Chicken, 3 oz cooked (1 mg)
- Salmon, 4 oz filet (1 mg)
- Tuna, canned light in water, 3 oz (1 mg)
- Egg, 1 hard-boiled (1 mg)
- Shrimp, 3 oz cooked (0.4 mg)
Foods rich in non-heme iron:
- White beans, 1 cup (8 mg)
- Lentils, 1 cup (6 mg)
- Kidney beans, 1 cup (4 mg)
- Chickpeas, 1 cup (4 mg)
- Tofu, 1/2 cup (3 mg)
- Spinach, 1/2 cup boiled (3 mg)
- Oatmeal, 1 cup (about 2 mg)
- Broccoli, 1/2 cup boiled (1 mg)
- Enriched whole wheat bread, 1 slice (1 mg)
- Enriched white rice, 1/2 cup (1 mg)
- Prunes, 7 pitted (1 mg)
- Raisins, 1/4 cup packed (1 mg)
- Figs, 5 medium (about 1 mg)
- Peanut butter, 2 tbsp (0.6 mg)
Foods rich in vitamin C:
- Red sweet peppers, 1 cup chopped (190 mg)
- Kiwis, two whole (138 mg)
- Strawberries, 1 cup halves (89 mg)
- Broccoli, 1 cup chopped (81 mg)
- Orange, medium (61 mg)
- Orange juice, 8 oz (60 mg)
- Mangoes, 1 cup pieces (60 mg)
- Tomatoes, 1 cup chopped (24 mg)
When it comes to iron and fertility, fueling up with iron-rich foods may not be a sure ticket to conception -- but it will help keep you healthy as you try to conceive. After all, the healthier you are, the better your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Here’s to happy eating and conceiving!