Iron is a mineral that is an essential element of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from our lungs throughout the body, in our red blood cells. It is a nutrient that is vital for many bodily functions. However, our body can only store this essential nutrient and is unable to produce it. The only way to obtain iron is from the food we consume, and we must eat such foods regularly to meet the Daily Value (DV). This amount is 18 mg, which is an approximate value and can vary from person to person depending on various factors. Luckily, there are many food varieties to help you meet your daily iron requirements. Read on to find out the top 10 healthy foods that are high in iron. This article also explores the benefits of an iron-rich diet on our health, alongside the consequences of iron deficiency in our body.
Iron Intake And Health
Iron is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in the immune system functioning. It treats several health conditions such as anemia, fatigue, and improves muscle endurance, and enhances our body’s immunity as well. Research also shows that appropriate iron levels in our body improves concentration, restores sleep, and boosts additional hemoglobin.
Iron can exist in two forms in foods, heme (present in animal-based foods) and non-heme (plant-based foods). Many plant and animal foods are fortified with iron. It is interesting to note that our body does not absorb iron from plants as readily as from animal products. However, the best method to regulate iron levels in your body is through natural food sources in your diet. Taking iron supplements is also a common pathway, however, dietary intake minimizes the risk of potential overdose. While there are many risks associated with low levels of iron in your body, there are consequences to excess iron in your body as well. Some of the side effects include nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. It may lead may lead to diabetes in some people if left unchecked for prolonged time periods. An iron build-up in the liver and other organs also increases the risk for certain cancers. Therefore, consult a doctor to get proper guidance on your daily iron requirements before you pop iron tablets as insurance.
Top Iron-rich Foods
A balanced diet contains iron-rich foods alongside other nutrients rich food. Here are 10 iron-rich foods that you should consider including in your daily diet to help meet your daily value of iron:
- Eggs, red meat, and organ meat– These animal-based foods are top sources of heme iron and is absorbed very quickly by our body.
- Legumes and lentils– These plant-based food sources contain comparable amounts of iron. Some common types are green peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.
- Soybeans and Tofu– These variants are known for their protein content and are particularly beneficial for vegetarians. However, they also have dense iron content and can be used as a meat replacement for people with dietary restrictions.
- Spinach and Broccoli– These green leafy vegetables are a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and are a valuable source of iron as well. These veggies may not be very popular amongst children, but they could be sneaked into recipes such as smoothies, omelets, and sandwiches.
- Seafood– Seafood such as oysters, shrimps, clams, sardines, etc. contain high iron content and should be included in your balanced diet.
- Fortified breakfast cereals– These are leading sources of iron; however, we must choose the right variety. It helps to look for a cereal type that has 100 percent of the daily value (DV) of iron.
- Nuts and Seeds– Various nuts and seeds such as cashews, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds are iron-rich plant sources. They are good sources of an array of other vitamins, minerals, and fiber as well.
- Fruits– While this could be an honorary mention, some fruits are exceptionally high in iron. These include prunes, olives, mulberries, etc.
- Edamame, white and black beans– These legumes need a special mention as these raw green, and boiled beans are powerhouses of iron content. They are also naturally high in vitamin C, which aids in the absorption of non-heme iron present in plant-based foods.
- Dark chocolate– Another reason to munch on these delights! Research shows that cocoa powder and dark chocolate contain a considerable amount of iron alongside several other minerals.
Causes And Consequences Of Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. It can happen when the food you consume does not provide enough iron to meet your daily needs. The population susceptible to an increased risk of iron deficiency include women, children, vegetarians, and even infants. When your body is without sufficient iron, it cannot make enough hemoglobin in red blood cells, hence, making it extremely difficult to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. This can further lead to health problems such as fatigue, weakness, glossitis (inflamed tongue), shortness of breath, headache, etc. These symptoms appear when iron deficiency has advanced to anemia, a health condition in which the red blood cells (RBC) count is so low, that it affects blood’s oxygen transportation efficiency.
People with iron deficiency experience tiredness and exhaustion that may last several weeks or longer. This interferes with their daily routine making everything they do less enjoyable. Therefore, you must eat the right food to fight iron deficiency and even take supplements if necessary.
Some causes of iron-deficiency are:
- Menstruation in women- The blood loss experienced by women during menstruation puts them at the risk of iron deficiency.
- Pregnancy and lactation- the baby in your belly requires a high amount of iron for growth and development. Breastfeeding women also lose iron through breast milk.
- Gastro-intestinal disorders- Dietary restrictions and other health conditions that limit the absorption of nutrients could also lead to iron deficiency.
- Vitamin A deficiency- Low levels of vitamin A also causes iron deficiency because this nutrient helps carry iron from where it is stored in our body. Therefore, iron regulation becomes hard without adequate amounts of vitamin A.
- Lack of dietary iron- Iron-rich foods are natural sources of iron, and when you limit these types of foods in your diet, your body becomes iron-deficient.
Iron is an essential mineral required for our health and sustenance. Regulating the iron levels in our blood has many health benefits. Since our body is not able to produce iron by itself, we must eat food that is high in this essential nutrient or take iron supplements. However, it is vital to consider your doctor’s opinion regarding iron supplements, if you are iron deficient. This is because the symptoms you experience could be related to other underlying health conditions. Excess intake of iron can be dangerous, and we should be mindful of an iron overdose. Some iron supplements affect the efficiency of certain medications, and cases of overdoses may result in internal bleeding, seizure, and coma. We do not need toxic levels of iron to build up in our body when many healthy foods are high in iron content that could provide us with better-desired results.