Iron is a mineral needed by our bodies. Iron is a part of all cells and does many things in our bodies. For example, iron (as part of the protein hemoglobin) carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies. Having too little hemoglobin is called anemia. Iron also helps our muscles store and use oxygen.
Iron is a part of many enzymes and is used in many cell functions. Enzymes help our bodies digest foods and also help with many other important reactions that occur within our bodies. When our bodies don’t have enough iron, many parts of our bodies are affected.
Key Functions of Iron
Iron is an important mineral. It is needed to help our red blood cells deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron.
- Transport and storage of oxygen.
- Aid in energy production and cell diffusion.
- Helps the immune and central nervous systems.
Iron absorption refers to the amount of dietary iron that your body obtains from the food you eat. Healthy adults absorb about 15% of the iron in their diet.
The actual amount of iron your body absorbs depends on the amount of iron already stored in your body. When your body has low amounts of iron stored, it will absorb more iron from the foods you eat. When your body has a large amount of iron stored, the amount of iron it absorbs will decrease.
If the body absorbs too much iron, a condition called hemochromatosis will occur.
Food Sources of Iron
- Excellent Source (3.5mg+) – cooked beans such as white beans, soybeans, lentils, chick peas, clams, oysters, pumpkin, sesame, and squash seeds, breakfast cereals (enriched with iron), tofu
- Good Source (2.1mg) – beef, ground or steak, blood pudding, canned lima, red kidney beans, chick and split peas, cooked enriched egg noodles, dried apricots
- Source (0.7mg) – chicken, ham, lamb, pork, veal, halibut, haddock, perch, salmon, canned or fresh shrimp, canned sardines, tuna, egg, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, roasted almonds, roasted cashews, sunflower seeds, cooked pasta, egg noodles, bread, pumpernickel bagel, bran muffin, cooked oatmeal, wheat germ, canned beets, canned pumpkin, dried seedless raisins, peaches, prunes, apricots
Boiling vegetables can reduce the iron content by 20%.
Caffeine interferes with the iron absorption in the body. Avoid drinking caffeine along with iron-rich foods or supplements.
Absorbability of iron from foods varies widely:
- The “organic” iron found in red meats is considered the most absorbable (10 – 30%).
- Plants contain “inorganic” iron, of which only 2 – 10% is absorbed in the digestive tract.
Recommended Daily Usage
- Children (girls & boys): Ages 1-3 (7mg), Ages 4-8 (10mg)
- Girls & Women: Ages 9-13 (8mg), Ages 14-18* (15mg), Ages 19-30** (18mg), Ages 31-50 (18mg), Ages 51+ (8mg)
- Pregnancy (27mg)
* Vegetarians need 26 mg ** Vegetarians need 33 mg
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron.
Iron is important because it helps you get enough oxygen throughout your body. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a part of your red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen through your body. If you do not have enough iron, your body makes fewer and smaller red blood. Then your body has less hemoglobin, and you cannot get enough oxygen.
Women are usually at a higher risk of iron deficiency because of blood loss through monthly menstrual cycles.
Iron is one of the top six nutrients that are found to be commonly deficient in people globally. Iron requirements increase for pregnant women, who produce more red blood cells to supply the growing fetus with oxygen and nourishment. My next article entitled “The Function of Magnesium in our Life” will examine the role of Magnesium in good nutrition.
See you on the Beaches of the World,