Importance of Iron & Its Sources


Iron is a mineral that our bodies use for growth and development. Iron makes hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies. It also makes myoglobin, which is a protein that provides oxygen to the muscles. Iron is also used in making hormones and connective tissue. So as you can see, Iron is pretty important!

How much iron do you need?

This really depends on your age, sex, race, and even your diet. If you eat a mostly plant-based diet, you will need to consume more iron than if you regularly consume meat. That is because the body absorbs the iron from meat better than from plants.

Essentially, iron can be divided into two parts: heme and non-heme. Non-heme is found in plants and iron-fortified food products. Heme is found in meat and seafood. The heme form is more easily absorbed in the body, so if you eat a mostly plant-based diet, will need to consume more iron.

An adult male on an average American diet will need 8mg of iron per day. An adult female on the same diet will need up to 18mg per day. Women's iron needs won't drop down to 8mg until menopause. Why is that? Because of a females monthly menstrual cycle (yay!).

If you are on a mostly plant-based diet, aim to get twice as much of the iron recommended above.

What foods provide iron?

Meat and seafood are the most obvious options, however white beans, lentils, spinach, nuts, and even raisins are all great sources! You can also find cereal and bread that has been fortified with iron.

Remember how your body absorbs iron better with meat? The same is true if you combine iron food sources with foods high in Vitamin C, like tomatoes and oranges!

Who should be careful to get enough iron?

  • Teen girls and women with heavy periods.

  • Pregnant women

  • Infants

  • Frequent blood donors

Iron deficiency is not common in America, but signs for deficiencies can be slow to show so keep an eye on your iron consumption (especially if you are a woman not yet in menopause!). Some signs of iron deficiency are fatigue, GI upset, lack of energy, & poor concentration.

If you suspect you have an iron deficiency, get a blood test from your doctor.

Amount of Iron in Food Products

3 oz chicken breast - 1mg

1 cup navy beans - 4mg

1 cup of lentils - 6 mg

1 cup spinach, cooked - 6mg

1/2 cup tofu - 6mg

To clarify, unless you follow a strict plant based diet and/or fall under the list of individuals above, your iron levels are probably right where they need to be. Include good sources of iron (preferably from food sources, not supplements) in your diet and talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your iron levels.

References:

1. Office of Dietary Supplements - Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2017, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/

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