Eat This Popular Breakfast Food To Give Your Iron Levels A Boost

Iron is one of those nutrients that we don't think much about until we're showing symptoms of deficiency. Whether it's pale skin, lethargy and tiredness, unexplained weakness, weak nails, hair loss, or headaches, the symptoms can be pretty obvious. 

This is when we usually look at our diets. Are we eating enough iron-containing foods? 

Turns out there's an iron-rich breakfast food that healthy people actually eat that you can incorporate into your mornings, too — oatmeal. According to the USDA, you can get 4.34 milligrams of iron from just 100 grams of whole-grain, rolled oats. 

Registered dietician MaryKate O'Riordan shared (via Woman's Day) that you can increase this percentage if you go for the prepackaged Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal, which the manufacturer indicates is fortified with additional iron. "One packet (28 g) of Quaker Oats Oatmeal has 7.2 mg of iron," she said. "For optimal absorption, eat with vitamin C-rich strawberries." 

Oatmeal is also a great source of soluble fiber good for gut health; it's packed with the beneficial antioxidants polyphenols; and, since it keeps you feeling full for longer (thanks to its protein content — 6 grams in one cup), you might not overeat before your next meal (via Healthline). 

Back to the iron content, why does our body need iron exactly? 

The importance of iron

Iron plays a crucial role in producing the protein hemoglobin which is responsible for transporting oxygen via our bloodstream throughout our body. It also contributes toward brain development and the functioning of various cells and hormones, per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

You become low on iron because of three different reasons, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Andrea Suarez (via Dr Dray). 

The first is that you might be experiencing a greater need for the mineral. For example, your body might be going through a growth spurt such as in adolescence or you might have higher iron needs because you're pregnant and nourishing an unborn child.

Another common reason is that you could be losing iron. Your body will show symptoms of iron loss after childbirth, during menstruation, if you've donated blood, or if you're losing blood in your stools because of some kind of gastrointestinal (GI) irritation, shared Suarez. 

Finally, you might become iron deficient if you're not getting enough of the stuff in your diet or you're not absorbing what you're consuming well (also known as "malabsorption"). Malabsorption can happen due to a number of reasons, some of which include chronic GI issues like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease, explained the doctor, adding that surgeries like gastric bypass surgery can mean your body can't absorb iron, too. "Aspirin [and] non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications can irritate the gastric lining and lead to poor absorption of iron," added Suarez.

Fixing low iron isn't as simple as just eating more oatmeal, however. There is a right way to consume oatmeal as a breakfast food so that you can reap the most benefits.

How to consume oatmeal for maximum health benefits

Believe it or not, there are ingredients you need to watch out for in your oatmeal. Instant oatmeal can contain added sugar which can quickly add to your calories. Steel-cut oats, also known as "Irish oatmeal" might be the healthiest kind out there because it's minimally processed (per Mayo Clinic Health System). 

Shopping organic might also be a good idea, according to registered dietician Kylie Ivanir (via Eat This, Not That). "Ideally, buy organic oats because oats are highly sprayed with a toxic pesticide called glyphosate. Too much glyphosate can impact our gut health, hormone balance, and overall health," explained the expert. 

Added preservatives, sugar, and pesticides aside, there is quite a variety of breakfast dishes you can whip up with oatmeal. Adding dried or chopped fresh fruit is one popular way to go, along with probiotic-rich yogurt or plant-based or dairy milk. Adding a little bit of natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup can elevate the flavors of this breakfast dish. You can also take the more spicy route with cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin spice; or add nuts and seeds and even shaved dark chocolate. Whatever you do, though, keep the nutrient content of the entire dish in mind. Even something as healthy as oatmeal can quickly turn unhealthy depending on what you pair it with.