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Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

How to Tell if You Are Iron Deficient

The body requires iron in order to produce hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. But many well-meaning dieters cut the very foods from their diet that provide the best sources of this vital nutrient. Find out how to tell if you are iron deficient by looking for these four signs.

How to Tell if You Are Iron Deficient

New dieters often take such painstaking care to avoid consuming unhealthy foods that their diets forego more than calories and fats, but also essential minerals like iron. The body requires iron in order to produce hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. Iron is naturally found in lean red meat, chicken, fish, turkey, cereals, beans, certain vegetables, as well as foods rich in vitamin C. When the body is lacking in iron—and consequentially, cannot generate the adequate hemoglobin needed to maintain good health—you may develop an iron shortage called iron deficiency anemia. This condition can lead to a decline in physical performance. Recognizing the following symptoms of iron deficiency can enable you and your doctor to moderate your behaviors and diet to restore optimal iron levels.


Unlike the fatigue you might occasionally experience after a long day at work, fatigue due to iron deficiency can be chronic and unsubsiding. Because the hemoglobin in red blood cells play a vital role in carrying oxygen to various parts of the body, a drop in hemoglobin production due to an iron shortage can lead to plummeting energy levels and resulting fatigue. While the frenetic pace of modern life can make it difficult to distinguish ordinary fatigue from exhaustion due to iron deficiency, if your usual fatigue is heightened and coupled with irritation, weakness, or an inability to focus, this may be a sign of an iron deficiency.

Shortness of Breath

When hemoglobin levels—and consequentially, oxygen levels—are low, you may feel short of breath even after taking long, deep breaths of air. This symptom may be coupled with headaches, dizziness, or lightheadedness. While shortness of breath is common after exertion or exercise, if your usual workout routine or everyday activities like climbing up the stairs leave you panting, you may have iron deficiency.

Pale Skin

Hemoglobin not only confers the characteristic bright red color of blood, but it gives your complexion a healthy, rosy hue. However, if you are suffering from an iron deficiency, low levels of hemoglobin can replace your natural glow with a pallid complexion that leaves you looking as tired as you feel. For individuals with a lighter complexion, a decrease in hemoglobin may be more easily observed; however, in all individuals, a visibly reduced redness in the gums, eyelids, or lips may be a sign of iron deficiency.


When your red blood cells aren't carrying enough hemoglobin, you heart must go into overdrive to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your body. For this reason, iron deficiency can cause arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. If you observe your heart beating unusually fast, this may be a sign of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can also lead to other heart conditions, like heart murmur, heart enlargement, and even heart failure. However, a review of iron deficiency in the Texas Heart Institute Journal suggests that one would need to suffer from anemia over a longer period of time before experiencing the more severe heart conditions arising from iron deficiency. This is all the more reason to consult a physician and identify your symptoms early.

The bistroMD diet delivery service can help you iron out the kinks in your diet with a variety of chef-prepared, nutritionally balanced entrees that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on November 30, 2015. Updated on January 14, 2016.


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