Iron is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in transporting oxygen around the body.
Iron helps to preserve many vital functions in the body, including general energy and focus, gastrointestinal processes, the immune system, and the regulation of body temperature.
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Hemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body’s iron. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
The body needs iron to help it carry out many vital processes, such as energy production, growth, development, and the synthesis of hormones. Iron also helps to keep the immune system healthy.
Iron deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron. This leads to abnormally low levels of red blood cells. If your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, your tissues and muscles won’t get enough oxygen and be able to work effectively. This leads to a condition called anemia.
The average daily iron intake from foods and supplements is 13.7–15.1 mg/day in children aged 2–11 years, 16.3 mg/day in children and teens aged 12–19 years, and 19.3–20.5 mg/day in men and 17.0–18.9 mg/day in women older than 19. The median dietary iron intake in pregnant women is 14.7 mg/day.
There are two types of dietary iron in food — heme iron and non-heme iron.The body absorbs them at different rates.
Animal products, such as meat, poultry, and fish contain both heme and non-heme iron. Typically, heme iron accounts for less of a person’s daily intake than non-heme iron, but the body absorbs it more easily.
Foods from plant sources only provide non-heme iron. Non-heme sources usually account for more of a person’s daily intake than heme iron, but the body does not absorb it as well as heme iron.
Foods that are rich in heme and non-heme iron include:
Liver, lean red meat, chicken, seafood, including oysters, lentils and beans, tofu, fortified breakfast cereals, dried fruits, such as prunes, figs, and apricots, nuts, seeds, soya, molasses, Dark-green leafy vegetables including: spinach, kale, seaweed, watercress, broccoli, asparagus, parsley are an excellent source of iron.
How to increase iron absorption?
Tea contains compounds called tannins. Tannins may reduce iron absorption in the body. Avoid drinking tea with food or straight after a meal may help improve iron absorption.
To increase iron absorption, include foods that are high in vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, in the same meal as iron-rich foods.
For example, eat a salad containing peppers and tomatoes ,or add lemon juices , drink a glass of orange juice alongside a fortified breakfast cereal.
Foods containing phytates can significantly reduce iron absorption.
Bran, grains, legumes, and nuts contain substances known as phytates. Phytates may interfere with the absorption of iron and other nutrients if consumed in large quantities. However, evidence for this is quite varied and not fully conclusive.
Soaking or fermenting phytate-rich foods before eating them may help increase iron absorption.
Polyphenols are found in various amounts in plant foods and beverages, including vegetables, fruits, some cereals and legumes, tea, coffee and wine.
Calcium inhibits both heme and non-heme iron at the point of initial uptake into enterocytes. Animal proteins such as casein, whey, egg whites, and proteins from plants (soy protein) have been shown to inhibit iron absorption in humans as well.
To maximize absorption, calcium-rich foods should not be eaten with meals that provide most of your dietary iron.
To maximize your iron intake, try to include meat, fish, poultry, beans and lentils in your diet, as well as vitamin C-rich foods during your meals. Also, spread out your tea, coffee and dairy intakes between meals. Cooking with iron cookware can add iron to your diet.
Written By Nutritionist Annie Katare
A post graduate in food and nutrition from Sarojini Naidu college Bhopal M.P.Having 10 year of experience in field of nutrition and dietetics
She strongly believes that a regular routine of health and fitness is the first step to a healthy lifestyle.