Last Updated December 20th, 2021
Why do we need iron in our diet?
Iron is a mineral which is essential for several functions in our body. Hemoglobin and myoglobin are the oxygen-carrying molecules that are produced with the help of this mineral. It has been recommended that at least 18 mg of iron be consumed per day through diet for the body to function normally. Foods containing this mineral are spread across numerous varieties.
Both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can get benefits by consuming these foods and include legumes, spinach, shellfish, organ meats, red meat, broccoli, quinoa, tofu, dark chocolate, etc. Consuming these iron-rich foods in appropriate quantities helps in fulfilling the mineral requirement and help in the absorption of iron from the food. Adequate iron levels in the bloodstream provide the answer for fatigue and tiredness. This mineral is essential in keeping away the symptoms of asthenia.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 18 mg. Iron is essential for metabolism, muscles, and normal body functions. A deficiency can occur if the intake of iron is too low to replace the amount we lose every day. Deficiency in iron can lead to anemia and subsequently cause symptoms of weakness. Menstruating women need to consume more quantities of iron during menstruation or else they are at high risk of deficiency. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency globally mainly among children and pregnant women.
Iron deficiency is the only nutrient deficiency that is widely prevalent in developed countries, according to the World Health Organization. Iron has a low bioavailability, which means that the small intestine does not readily absorb large amounts of iron.
This decreases the iron availability for use and increases the likelihood of deficiency. A lot of common foods are high in iron such as chocolate, pumpkin seeds, fortified cereals, and red meat.
Facts on iron
- The preferred intake considered to be safe may vary with different ages. Pregnant women are required to intake high quantities of iron.
- Iron helps with pregnancy and improves the energy level as well as promoting better performance of athletes. Iron deficiency is generally very common in female sports personalities.
- Clams that are canned, white beans, cereals, etc are considered to be rich in dietary iron.
- Increased intake of iron can increase the risk of liver cancer and diabetes.
Health Benefits of iron
Iron helps to maintain many vital functions in the body, including general energy and focus, gastrointestinal processes, the immune system, and the regulation of body temperature. A deficiency in iron can cause a medical condition called iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is a medical condition, which is known to cause symptoms of weakness, rapid heart rate, paleness of the skin, as well as difficulty breathing.
Iron consumption is very important during pregnancy. Blood volume and red blood cell production increase rapidly during pregnancy, which is needed to supply the growing fetus with oxygen and nutrients. Due to these reasons, the demand for iron also increases. The body naturally maximizes iron absorption during pregnancy.
Insufficient iron intake and other factors may affect the absorption of iron and can lead to iron deficiency. There are many health-related problems, which can arise due to this. Reduced intake of iron during pregnancy may exacerbate the risk of premature birth & reduced birth weight. This may also affect the iron stores and can also cause cognitive or behavioral development issues in newborn.
Since iron also promotes the immune system, pregnant women with low iron may be more prone to infections. However, research has recommended the possibility of additional iron to all pregnant women, even those with normal iron levels. Studies have shown that pregnant women should take 30 mg to 60 mg of iron supplements on every day regardless of their iron levels.
Energy is the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. Iron plays a major role in providing energy to the body and brain. Body muscles and brain receive oxygen when iron carries them through the blood, which is considered to be important for both mental and physical performance. There is reduced energy efficiency when the iron levels are minimal in the diet, which may also result in lack of focus, increased irritability, and reduced stamina, which affects the daily routine of life.
Promotes Better Muscle Function
Muscle health is dependent on iron. Iron is available in the muscle tissues in the form of myoglobin and helps provide the supply of oxygen required for contraction of muscles. When there is a deficiency in iron, muscles lose their tone and elasticity. Muscle weakness can generally indicate a medical condition called anemia.
Increases Brain Function
Normal brain function is very much essential for the normal functioning of our daily life. Appropriate development of the brain is achieved with the use of iron. Since oxygen supply in the blood is aided by iron and the brain uses approximately 20% of the blood oxygen, it is directly related to brain health and its various functions.
Proper flow of blood in the brain can stimulate cognitive activity and help create new neural pathways to prevent cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer disease. Due to these reasons, iron intake and its subsequent brain oxygenation are very essential.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, which is a common condition of the nervous system that causes an overwhelming irresistible urge to move the legs. Restless leg syndrome is generally caused due to the lower levels of iron in the body. This condition is connected to muscle spasms, which can be one of the symptoms of iron deficiency. A healthy iron-rich diet and supplements are required to treat this condition.
Regulates Body Temperature
Body temperature is a measure of the body’s ability to generate and get rid of heat. Iron is an important component for regulating body temperature. It is very interesting to note that iron has the ability to regulate itself as per the absorption capacity of the body. Keeping the body temperature stable helps enzymatic and metabolic functions to occur in their most optimal and efficient environment and temperatures.
Anemia is a medical condition that develops when the blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. As we know that iron helps in the manufacturing of hemoglobin, which in turn helps in the treatment of a severe disorder called iron deficiency anemia. Most of the health benefits of iron come as a result of preventing iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia affects millions of people around the world and is the most common nutritional deficiency on the planet.
Chronic diseases are long-lasting conditions that usually can be controlled but not cured. Iron helps in the treatment of chronic disorders like renal failure, anemia, and other chronic diseases of the intestinal and excretory system, which are not related to blood necessarily. Iron plays a key part in many necessary processes throughout the body’s systems, and not just the circulatory system.
Neurotransmitters are made in the cell body of the neuron and then transported down the axon to the axon terminal. Molecules of neurotransmitters are stored in small packages called vesicles. Synthesis of numerous essential neurotransmitters namely dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are involved with the use of iron. Neurotransmitters are known to play a major role in various activities involving neurons and the human brain.
Treats Predialysis Anemia
Anemia is common among patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Anemia is known to be the cause of many of the symptoms related to abnormal kidney function. Studies have shown that supplementing iron for these patients having chronic kidney disease can help in reduction of predialysis anemia. However, this is done only under medical supervision, as it can be very complicated and dangerous.
Fatigue is a subjective feeling of tiredness that has a gradual onset. Health benefits of iron also include the elimination of unexplained or chronic fatigue, which may occur in both men and women due to the lack of iron content in the blood. Iron deficiency is a natural cause of fatigue since iron is an important component of hemoglobin.
Red blood cells are necessary for providing oxygen to the body and brain. It helps in treating damaged tissues, organs, and cells. Without iron, there would be no hemoglobin and without hemoglobin, there would be no oxygen. The healing process needs this essential nutrient to occur. Strength to the immune system is very essential and iron is the most important component used to improve the strength of the immune system.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder, which is characterized by difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. People with insomnia have one or more of the following symptoms such as difficulty falling asleep, waking up often during the night, and having trouble going back to sleep. Alteration in blood pressure can be a cause of sleep disorder. A normal red blood cell count can help the reduction of blood pressure fluctuations and iron plays a major role in maintaining normal red blood cell count. In this way, iron is useful in treating insomnia and it improves the sleeping habits of people by regulating the circadian rhythms.
Concentration is the action or power of focusing. Iron is well known to provide the amount of energy the brain requires to function. Adequate brain function can help improve concentration and boost cognitive performance. Studies have shown that an increased flow of blood to the brain results in improved concentration.
Animal foods are high in iron content namely red meat and offal (such as liver). Chicken, duck, pork, turkey, and fish also contain iron. Iron is also found in many plant-based foods such as green vegetables namely spinach, silverbeet, and broccoli.
Iron is found in lentils and beans, nuts and seeds, grains such as whole wheat, brown rice, and fortified breakfast cereals. Iron is present in dried fruit. The iron in animal-based foods is easier to absorb as compared to the iron in plant-based foods. Let us discuss the top iron-rich foods below:
Shellfish: All shellfish is high in iron, but clams, oysters and mussels are particularly rich sources. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of clams may contain up to 28 mg of iron, which is 155% of the recommended daily intake.
There are variable amounts of iron content in clams. The iron in shellfish is called heme iron, which the body absorbs more easily than the non-heme iron found in plants. A serving of clams also provides 26 grams of protein, 37% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C and a whopping 1,648% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin B12.
Spinach: Spinach provides many health benefits. 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked spinach contains 3.6 mg of iron, which is 20% of the recommended daily intake. This iron in non-heme iron, which is not absorbed very well. Spinach is also rich in antioxidants called carotenoids, which may reduce the risk of cancer, decrease inflammation and protect the eyes from disease.
Organ Meats: Organ meats are considered to be extremely nutritious. Popular types of organ meats include liver, kidneys, brain, and heart. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of beef liver contains 6.5 mg of iron, which is 36% of the recommended daily intake. B vitamins, copper and selenium are some of the components that are rich in organ meats. The liver is especially high in vitamin A, providing 634% of the recommended daily intake per serving. Organ meats are a rich source of choline, an important nutrient for brain and liver health.
Legumes: Legumes are highly rich with nutrients. Common varieties of legumes include soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 6.6 mg of iron, which is 37% of the recommended daily intake. Legumes are considered to be rich sources of magnesium as well as potassium. Legumes are known to reduce inflammation in people who are suffering from diabetes. In order to maximize iron absorption, we need to consume legumes with foods high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, greens, or citrus fruits.
Red Meat: A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of ground beef contains 2.7 mg of iron, which is 15% of the recommended daily intake. This type of meat is considered to be rich in proteins, selenium, zinc, as well as B vitamins. Researchers have found that iron deficiency may be less likely in people who eat meat, poultry, and fish on a regular basis.
Pumpkin Seeds: Pumpkin seeds are a tasty and portable snack. A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of pumpkin seeds contains 4.2 mg of iron, which is 23% of the recommended daily intake. Vitamin K, zinc, and manganese are abundant in these seeds. Also, 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 37% of the recommended daily intake for magnesium, which helps reduce the risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and depression.
Quinoa: Quinoa is a popular grain, which is also known as a pseudocereal. One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides 2.8 mg of iron, which is 15% of the recommended daily intake. Quinoa is also high in protein compared to other grains and also are rich in folate, magnesium, copper, manganese and many other nutrients. Quinoa also acts as an antioxidant as compared to other grains.
Turkey: Turkey meat is considered to be very healthy and delicious, which is also a good source of iron. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of dark turkey meat has 2.3 mg of iron, which is 13% of the recommended daily intake. Turkey also contains an impressive 29 grams of protein per serving and several B vitamins and minerals, including 30% of the recommended daily intake for zinc and 58% of the recommended daily intake for selenium.
Broccoli: Broccoli is highly nutritious. A 1-cup (156-gram) serving of cooked broccoli contains 1 mg of iron, which is 6% of the recommended daily intake. A serving of broccoli also contains 168% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C, which helps the body absorb the iron better.
Tofu: Tofu is a soy-based food, which is popular among vegetarians. A half-cup (126-gram) serving provides 3.6 mg of iron, which is 19% of the recommended daily intake. Tofu is rich in calcium, selenium, and magnesium. In addition, tofu provides 20 grams of protein per serving. Tofu contains a unique compound called isoflavones, which have been linked to improved insulin sensitivity.
Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate is amazingly delicious and nutritious and very commonly used. A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 3.3 mg of iron, which is 19% of the recommended daily intake. It also contains 25% and 16% of the recommended daily intake for copper and magnesium respectively. Studies found that cocoa powder and dark chocolate have more antioxidant activity. Compounds called flavanols are responsible for chocolate’s benefits, and the flavanol content of dark chocolate is much higher than that of milk chocolate.
What is the right iron intake for you?
The appropriate intake for elemental iron may depend on a person’s age and sex. The recommended dosage is divided into four main categories namely the infants, children, males, and females. The following information provides an overall picture with regard to the number of iron people should consume:
- 0 to 6 months: 27 mg.
- 7 to 12 months: 11 mg.
- 1 to 3 years: 7 mg.
- 4 to 8 years: 10 mg.
- 9 to 13 years: 8 mg.
- 14 to 18 years: 11 mg.
- 19 years and older: 8 mg.
- 9 to 13 years: 8 mg.
- 14 to 18 years: 15 mg.
- 19 to 50 years: 18 mg.
- 51 years and older: 8 mg.
- During pregnancy: 27 mg.
Iron is an important mineral, which is very essential for the normal functioning of the body. It is called an essential mineral since it cannot be produced by the body and needs to be supplemented either by diet or other supplements. Appropriate consumption of iron can give numerous health benefits. Whereas deficiency can lead to a medical condition called iron deficiency anemia and can lead to several diseases. It is advised to intake an appropriate level of iron after consulting a medical professional.
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