Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which is a conjugated hemoprotein that binds to oxygen, and acts as the carrier of oxygen in the human body. It also plays a vital role in DNA synthesis, cell regulation, and energy production. The human body has its own mechanism to regulate the levels of iron. When a person consumes iron-rich foods, the intestines extract iron, which is then stored in the form of ferritin. Ferritin is an iron-storage protein that releases iron when the iron levels in blood become lower than normal. Inadequate intake of foods that are rich in iron, loss of blood, or malabsorption of iron due to certain disorders are some of the common causes of an iron deficiency. Excessive loss of blood during menstruation could put women at a risk of developing an iron deficiency. Fatigue, pallor, hair loss, irritability, low energy levels, and pica are some of the symptoms of this deficiency.
Ways to Avoid an Iron Deficiency
If a person doesn't consume iron-rich food, the body's iron stores are likely to get depleted. However, the balance of stored iron can be restored by following a diet that fulfills the body's requirements of iron. Let's first look into the daily recommended dietary intake for iron.
|Daily RDA for Iron|
|19 years and above||8|
|50 years and above||8|
Note that the absorption rate of heme iron is better than non-heme iron. Certain food items can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron, while others can enhance the absorption. Therefore, vegetarians need to include vitamin C in their diet as it increases iron absorption. Since calcium inhibits iron absorption, excessive intake of calcium-rich food must be avoided.
Sources of Heme Iron
- Red meat is a rich source of iron. Beef, veal, pork, lamb, duck, and goose are sources of red meat.
- Clams are a type of a shellfish. These are rich in vitamin B12, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Oysters are also a type of shellfish which contain iron, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and copper.
- Tuna is also rich in iron. You can use tuna in salads. You can either grill it or roast it. The fish is simply a gourmet's delight.
- Pork roast is another rich source of iron. Having 3 ounces of it gives the body 2.7 mg of iron.
|Foods Rich in Heme Iron|
|Food||Serving Size||Iron (mg)|
|Oysters (cooked)||3 oz.||10.2|
|Organ Meats||3 oz.||5.2-9.9|
|Beef (cooked)||3 oz.||2.8-3.1|
|Tuna salad||1 cup||2.05|
|Catfish (cooked)||3 oz.||1.22|
|Crab (cooked)||3 oz.||0.65|
Sources of Non-heme Iron
- Broccoli is a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin B, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Boil with some salt and pepper and add it to your salads, so that you do not miss out on the required iron.
- Asparagus officinalis contains a good amount of iron. It would be a good idea to incorporate asparagus soup or asparagus salad in your daily meal.
- Romaine lettuce is also high in iron. It can be eaten raw. It also provides vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin A to the body. You could use it in salads and sandwiches.
- Green beans are also a rich source of iron. Half a cup of cooked, dried beans will provide the body with around 2.6 mg of iron.
- Swiss chard has innumerable health benefits. It is highly recommended for those who are suffering from an iron deficiency.
- Kale cabbage is another good source of iron. You can either fry it or boil it, the vegetable is sure to provide your body with the daily dose of iron.
|Vegetables Rich in Iron|
|Vegetables||Serving Size||Iron (mg)|
|Spinach (cooked)||1/2 cup||4.5-7|
|Beans (cooked)||1/2 cup||1.8-4.3|
|Lima Beans (boiled)||1/2 cup||1.8|
|Broccoli (boiled)||1/2 cup||1.7|
|Pumpkin (cooked)||1/2 cup||1.7|
- Spinach is a very good source of iron for vegetarians. A serving of 180 g of spinach gives the body 6.43 mg of iron.
- Potatoes enhance iron absorption. Baked potatoes with skin certainly provide a fair amount of iron.
- Green peas are also high in iron content. They help in the formation of red blood cells, and help in preventing anemia.
- Lima beans replenish the iron content in the body, restoring lost energy levels. These are also excellent for diabetics.
- Having ¾ cup of soybeans provides the body with 6.5 mg of iron. This goes to show its importance.
- Regular consumption of lentils averts an iron deficiency, and provides the body with essential amino acids.
- Chickpeas are also a good source of iron. Having 200 g of chickpeas will provide the body with 6.2 mg of iron.
|Grains Rich in Iron|
|Food||Serving Size||Iron (mg)|
|Cream of Wheat||1/2 cup||6|
|Oat bran (raw)||1 cup||5.09|
|Fortified cereal (cooked)||1 packet||4.9 to 8|
|Wheat germ||1/2 cup||4|
|Bread (whole-grain)||1 slice||0.65|
- Bran flakes are an excellent breakfast option for kids and adults. Consuming 45 g of bran flakes will give you 5.3 mg of iron.
- Whole wheat breads are also good sources of iron. These also provide the body with carbohydrates and fiber.
- Muesli is a mixture of dry cereals that can be had with milk. 60 g of muesli provides the body with 2.76 mg of iron.
- Tofu is a cheese-like food that is high in iron. Having 4 ounces of tofu will give you 6 mg of iron. Tofu can be fried or even added to salads and curries.
- Sesame seeds are edible seeds that not only add to the flavor, but also improve the nutritional value of any food item. 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds will give you 1 mg of iron.
- Sprouts add to the taste of salad or any curry preparation. They are high in iron content.
|Fruits Rich in Iron|
|Fruits||Serving Size||Iron (mg)|
|Peaches (dried)||1/4 cup||1.6|
|Apricots (dried)||1/4 cup||1.5|
|Strawberries (raw)||1 cup||0.68|
- Almonds also contain a good amount of iron. An ounce of almonds will give you 6% of daily iron requirement.
- Cashews are edible nuts, and a very good source of iron. Consuming ¼ cup of cashews gives the body 2.1 mg of iron.
- Dates provide the body with several essential nutrients and have numerous health benefits.
- Figs are high in iron. This fruit acts as a laxative, and is also a delicious substitute for sweets. It can be cooked or eaten raw.
- Dried apricots, if given to those who are anemic, improves the condition of the body. The fruit is easy to digest, and also provides the body with nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin C.
An iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies that affects people all over the world. High-risk groups include young children, adolescents, and women. Those who suffer from Crohn's disease are also susceptible. The best way to treat or prevent this condition is to follow a healthy diet. If you have been diagnosed with this nutritional deficiency, do follow the dietary guidelines given by a nutritionist. If you have been asked to take iron supplements, take them as per the prescribed dosage. Note that excessive consumption of iron supplements could lead to an iron overload, which is medically referred to as hemochromatosis. It left untreated, the affected individual's liver could get damaged.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.