Facts about Iron
- Iron is one of those essential minerals that is important for good health.
- Blood is red due to iron and oxygen in our blood.
- Iron is typically associated with red meats.
Where is Iron Found?
- In many foods including meats and legumes.
- It is added to processed foods such as pastas, cereals, milks, etc.
- In Canada, grain products like flour, pasta and breakfast cereals are fortified with iron. (Those are typically labelled as “fortified” to indicate the higher iron value.)
- Many plant foods contain more than 10% of the recommended daily allowance of iron per serving, with lentils and spinach being on top of the list.
- When husks are removed during the production of refined flours, whole grains can lose up to three-quarters of their iron content.
- About 70% of your body's iron is found in the red blood cells in a chemical compound called hemoglobin while the iron in the muscle cells is in myoglobin. Hemoglobin is essential for transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues.
Of course, iron is also available as a dietary supplement but we advise you to consult your doctor before taking iron.
Iron’s function in the human body
This little mineral has many important functions in our bodies and we could not live without it.
- It allows for babies’ brains and nerves to develop properly.
- It helps many enzymes in the energy-generating pathways.
- It is required when creating new cells, hormones, neurotransmitters, and amino acids.
- It enhances transportation of oxygen to every cell of the body via the red blood cells.
- Iron supports energy generation through metabolic processes.
Types of Mineral Iron
2 types of iron exist:
- Large quantities of heme iron are found in animal foods such as meat, seafood, poultry and eggs.
- The other type of iron is called non-heme and exists in plant foods like tofu, legumes (beans, dried peas, lentils), enriched foods, nuts, seeds and some vegetables (spinach, kale).
- It is actually easier for the body to absorb heme iron than non heme.
Typical Foods Containing Iron
- lamb kidney
- beef liver
While the recommended daily allowance of iron varies with age, gender and level of physical activity, it is suggested to stay below 45 mg/day. Men need about 10 mg, while women need around 18 mg daily.
How can I Easily Maintain Healthy Iron Levels?
Iron and vitamin C work synergistically. Eating the combination of foods which have both iron and vitamin C will benefit you the most.
- Squeeze lemon juice (source of vitamin C) on cooked spinach and lentils (plant iron).
- Eat pasta (iron-fortified food) with fresh tomato sauce (source of vitamin C, and also lycopene).
- Drink non-concentrated orange juice (i.e., has vitamin C) with oatmeal (iron).
- Eat your steak with a big green salad containing spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, etc.
Iron with Iron
Eating the 2 types of iron together will also increase the absorption of non-heme iron.
- Serve pasta with chicken.
- Add lentils to meat dishes.
- Try our recipe for a tasty spinach juice here.
When husks are removed during the production of refined flours, whole grains can lose up to three-quarters of their iron content. Iron in plants is stripped through processing, water soaking, and cooking so by eating 100% whole wheat grains this helps keep iron naturally in the food.
Don’t overcook your veggies & don’t throw away the water!
You may have heard that meat is better to overcook than to undercook it. Well, it’s not the same for veggies! Iron is quickly lost from plant foods when over cooked. For example, if you boil spinach in water and drain it, you are losing a lot of iron with the water; almost 90%!
Here’s an idea: add spinach leaves to lentils or tomato sauce once the water is sufficiently evaporated. To reduce loss of loss while cooking, adopt shorter cooking times and the use of smaller amounts of water.
Lack of Iron in the Body
Being naturally deficient in iron is a serious condition. You can avoid this by eating iron-rich foods. Common signs that you may need more iron in your diet are
- Pale complexion
Speak to your health care provider if you are experiencing these symptoms, and also speak to your doctor before taking iron pills to make sure you are taking the ones that are right for you.
Holford, P. “The New Optimum Nutrition Bible”, 2004.