Iron is a mineral found in every cell of the body and required for our bodies to function properly. The average man has about 2 grams of iron in his blood cells at any given time while women have about 1.6 grams. All of the tissues in our body need a near constant supply of oxygen to maintain life. This supply of oxygen is accomplished by the red blood cells.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein that transports oxygen from the lungs, drives it through the bloodstream, and finally deposits the oxygen into tissues, skin, and muscles..and then picks up carbon dioxide and drives it back to the lungs where it’s exhaled.
Iron is needed to make this hemoglobin so important in transporting oxygen to tissues. Iron is also necessary to support proper metabolism, the process of burning calories and creating energy performed by muscles and other active organs.
The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following:
- Children younger than 6 months: 0.27 mg/day
- Children 7 months to 1 year: 11 mg/day
- Children 1 to 3 years: 7 mg/day
- Children 4 to 8 years: 10 mg/day
- Females 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
- Females 14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
- Females 19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
- Females 51 and older: 8 mg/day
- Males 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
- Males 14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
- Males 19 and older: 8 mg/day
- Pregnant women, 14-50 years: 27 mg
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world. Without question, more human health problems worldwide are caused by iron deficiency than by lack of any other nutrient.
The human body typically stores some iron to replace any that is lost, but low iron levels over a long period of time can lead to iron deficiency anemia. If a person’s diet does not contain enough iron, the iron stores in the body become depleted and hemoglobin levels drop — a condition known as anemia.
Iron deficiencies can be caused by not eating enough iron, not absorbing enough iron, or excessive blood loss…by such conditions as excessive bleeding in menstruation and in pregnancy, chronic bleeding through injury, prescription and recreational drugs, blood donation, and digestive problems. Iron deficiencies are found most often in menstruating females, pregnant women, and older toddlers.
Symptoms of anemia can include weakness, fatigue, vertigo, hair loss, a swollen tongue, suppressed immune system, decreased mental functioning, impaired social development in children, body temperature regulation impairments, lack of energy, shortness of breath, headache, irritability, dizziness, and weight loss.
These symptoms appear only when iron deficiency has progressed to actual anemia, a condition in which the body’s iron stores have become so low that not enough normal red blood cells can be made to carry oxygen efficiently.
Those at risk for low iron levels include:
- Babies and Young children…close to 15% of kids developing deficiency by age 2.
- Long-distance runners
- People with any type of bleeding in the intestines, such as a bleeding ulcer
- People with gastrointestinal conditions that make it hard to absorb nutrients from food
- People who frequently donate blood
- Women who are menstruating, especially if they have heavy periods
- Women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby
On the other hand, excessive iron stores are also responsible for a large burden of illness worldwide.
If the body stores too much iron, the mineral becomes deposited in organs and tissues, including the heart and liver. This is known as iron toxicity. Iron toxicity can result in long term damage to these organs.
Given that even the most iron-rich foods have less than 5 mg per serving, it would be very difficult to exceed the 40mg of iron per day that would put you at risk for iron toxicity through diet alone.
However, there is a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis that affects the body’s ability to control how much iron is absorbed and results in a person having too much iron in the body. This disorder is treated through a low-iron diet and regularly scheduled phlebotomy.
Some of the best sources of iron are…
- Beans…including pinto, kidney, soybeans, lentils, white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lima beans…Lentils contain 7 mg of iron per 250 ml serving…39% of your daily recommended intake. Soybeans contain 9.3 mg of iron per 250ml serving…52% of your daily recommended intake.
- Blackstrap molasses…Blackstrap molasses provides about 1mg of iron per teaspoon… much greater than the amount found in a teaspoon of honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar.
- Dark green leafy vegetables…such as spinach…Spinach contains 3 mg of iron per 85 grams..17% of your daily recommended intake.
- Dried fruits such as prunes, raisins, and apricots
- Eggs (especially egg yolks)
- Meats—particularly red meats
- Nuts such as almonds and Brazil nuts
- Oysters, salmon, and tuna
- Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, collards, asparagus, and dandelion greens
- Whole-grains such as wheat, millet, oats, and brown rice
But enough blah, blah, blah…now that I know that I need to eat more iron and why…it’s time to figure out how…
Here comes the fun part…the recipes…