A friend of mine asked me to write a post about iron and what foods are rich in iron, so this post is dedicated to this essential mineral.

Why is iron important and what role does it play in the body?

Iron is a vital mineral for our health. As a component of hemoglobin iron helps with the transportation of oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from cells. It is also a component of enzymes and is vital for energy production and the overall cell function in the body. Iron is important for the production of connective tissue and brain neurotransmitters, important for the immune system. This mineral is also required for the production of red blood cells. You can already see how many important functions iron plays in our body, and why it is important that we eat foods, that contain iron. But what happens if we lack this mineral?

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency and what can cause anemia?

If your diet is low in iron or the iron is contained in forms that are poorly absorbed by the body, a deficiency in iron will occur. The most known iron deficiency is anemia, but you can be deficient in iron even if you don’t have anemia. Our bodies can store iron to replace it when it’s lost. When the hemoglobin concentration in our red blood cells falls below the normal range, a person is classified as having anemia.

Pale skin, tiredness, fatigue, nausea, lethargy and loss of appetite indicate an iron deficiency. Other symptoms can be sensitivity to cold, obesity and learning disorders in children.

Who is mostly at risk from iron deficiency?

Young children: Children need iron while growing up to develop to healthy and strong individuals.

Pregnant women: Iron is essential for the future mom and for her baby, as iron is needed for the red blood cell production, for the placenta tissues and for the building of the baby’s bones.

Women: Women in general suffer more from iron deficiency than man, as we lose iron during menstruation.

Vegetarians:  Dietary iron is found in two forms: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found only in animal products, such as red meat, fish and poultry and is easily absorbed by the body. The non-heme iron is found in both – plant and animal foods, but the absorption of non-heme iron depends on other factors as well, such as the other foods we consume.

So what are those foods that we need to combine (or avoid) if we want our body to absorb iron better?

Vitamin C is a big iron friend, as it increases the absorption of iron. Other iron friends are vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and folic acid. Try to have Vitamin C rich foods with iron rich foods for optimal absorption. For example a salad with strawberries and spinach, tempeh and tomatoes with some squeezed lemon will make for a delicious and iron rich lunch. Other examples of foods high in Vitamin C are: broccoli, peppers, avocado, orange.

Remember that calcium and some other minerals (like zinc) compete with iron for their absorption, so try to avoid foods that have a combination of both minerals if you are after optimizing your iron intake.

What foods are high in iron?

  • Pumpkin seeds are great as they contain 11.2 mg of iron per 100g
  • Soya beans and tofu
  • Cooked dried beans
  • Dried fruits (dried apricots are yummy and a great iron source)
  • Prunes and dates
  • Parsley
  • Oatmeal
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach contains oxalates which inhibits the optimal absorption of iron, but it is still very healthy and loaded with nutrients)
  • Fish
  • Red meat

Other sources of iron are foods that have been cooked in iron cookware.

Is too much iron a bad thing?

Iron can be toxic when consumed in high amounts and may interfere with the absorption and metabolism of other minerals. Consult your doctor if you suspect that you suffer from anemia, and take iron supplements only after they have been prescribed by your doctor.

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