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Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency among Americans. It affects children and young women most often, but anyone can fall short of the RDA for this mineral. When iron intake is too low, the body can’t make enough red blood cells. The result can be fatigue, headaches and dizziness, among other symptoms.

Improving iron status can be as simple as adding a few servings of beans to your diet. Just one-half cup of navy beans, for example, provides more than 10 percent of the daily iron requirement for women.

But while beans are rich in iron, they also contain compounds called phytates that reduce iron absorption.

Phytates are antioxidants and they may have important health benefits. So it’s not bad to consume a diet that’s rich in these compounds. And fortunately, it’s easy to counter their effects on iron absorption. Pairing iron-rich beans with good sources of vitamin C is one simple way to improve iron absorption. Vitamin C severs the bond between iron and phytate, freeing up the iron for absorption. In some studies, simply adding vitamin C rich foods to diets without changing iron content of the meals was enough to improve iron status.