Why Is Iron Important and How to Get More in Your Diet from Why Is Iron Important and How to Get More in Your Diet

Why Is Iron Important and How to Get More in Your Diet

The recommended daily dietary allowance for iron for 19-to-50-year-old women is 18 mg and 8 mg for men. It doesn’t sound like much, but between 10 and 15 percent of adults in the U.S. don’t have enough and thousands are hospitalized every year. Lack of the essential nutrient is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and women are affected more than men, according to the American Family Physician. 

 

 

Your red blood cells depend on it

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Iron helps the body create hemoglobin, which is needed for red blood cells to carry oxygen, Angela Martindale, celebrity nutritionist, says. If your hemoglobin levels are not high enough, you won’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. This can lead to anemia, exhaustion and a weaker immune system that can’t fight off illnesses, she adds. “The body breaks down the iron […] also to create healthy and strong skin, hair and nails.”

Be careful about red meat

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It is important to recognize that the meat people eat today is not the red meat that existed in previous generations. “For your red meat to be really healthy for you, it must come from cows that eat natural sources of grasses (without GMO's and steroids), not factory-fed and definitely not pumped full of nitrates before being sold to preserve it for longer than is sustainable organically,” Martindale says.

Benefits of red meat

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The clean kind of red meat can be tremendously healthy for you, as it not only has high-quality heme-iron – approximately 12-13 percent, which cannot be found in plant protein sources – and contains high levels of zinc, selenium, creatine and carnosine, according to Martindale, which are important for brain and muscle function and repair, she adds. “Red meat also has omega-3s, vitamins A and E, and vital CLA (fatty chain acids essential for heart health),” Martindale says.

How much do you need?

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Red meat, as long as it comes from an organic, grass-fed source, typically has only 176-200 calories, approximately 20 grams of quality animal protein, and only about 10 grams of fat, Martindale says. “I recommend that my Meals That Transform clients stick to a 3-3.5 ounce portion of lean red meats once per month and once per month for pork,” she adds.

Iron-rich fish

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Skip the oil or pill supplement and just go right for the real deal when it comes to iron-rich fish,” Martindale says. Seafood-based iron is a very healthy source of iron, which is especially high in oysters, clams and mussels, she adds. “But some of the top fish based sources of iron are sockeye salmon (which has approximately 0.4 milligrams of iron in 3 oz.), baked halibut and light tuna canned in water.”

Vitamin C can enhance iron absorption

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“Our bodies need Vitamin C to help absorb iron,” Martindale says. Top Vitamin C foods include lemon, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and broccoli. The trick is to eat them with foods high in iron. The vitamin and the non-heme iron, which is not very well absorbed during digestion, form a new compound that is. That’s why each meal should preferably contain at least 25 mg of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), according to the Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements.

Iron-rich vegetables

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Raw veggies in their natural form are always better for getting maximum nutritional benefit from them, Martindale says. The best veggies that are high in iron include squash, kale, peas, green leafy vegetables, and nuts. Legumes are excellent sources of iron too, she adds. You can also choose dried fruits and iron-fortified cereals.

Iron-rich fruits

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They include apricots, which have more than 7.5 grams (42 percent of DV) in one cup, peaches, prunes, raisins, mulberries (which are also a great summer superfood for weight loss), and coconuts.

Avoid liver

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Liver has been known to be a great source of iron. No one disputes that but “liver is a toxin flushing organ and I do not recommend it as a healthy source of iron to my clients,” Martindale says. Pregnant women are advised against eating liver all together because it has a lot of vitamin A which, in large amounts, can harm the baby, according to the U.K. National Health Service (NHS).

Iron inhibiting foods

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Calcium is the only known substance to inhibit absorption of both non-heme and heme iron, according to the Iron Disorders Institute. Calcium in amounts 300-600 mg – or about one cup of skimmed milk – is enough to hinder the process. Eggs contain phosvitin, a protein, which impairs the absorption of iron. Oxalates have the same effect. The presence of oxalates in spinach explains why the iron in spinach is not absorbed. They are also found in beets, chocolate, tea, strawberries, oregano, basil, and parsley.

Too much iron

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The side effects of taking high doses (over 20 mg) of iron include constipation, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain, the NHS says. Very high doses of iron can be fatal, particularly if taken by children. Excess iron in vital organs increases the risk for liver disease, heart failure, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and hypothyroidism, according to the Iron Disorders Institute.