Iron – why it is necessary and what foods have itNutrition
By pH health care professionals
Why is iron important?
Iron helps make red blood cells. Red blood cells transport oxygen to your body’s cells. Without enough iron, your organs may not get the oxygen they need to function properly. Not having enough iron is called iron-deficiency anemia, which is the most common form of anemia.
Iron deficiency may be caused by:
- Not getting enough iron in your diet.
- Having a health condition that impairs your ability to absorb iron such as Celiac disease.
- Losing significant amounts of blood – which contains iron – because of heavy menstruation or some form of internal blood loss such as a peptic ulcer, colon polyp, colorectal cancer and hiatal hernia.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Chest pain
- Cold hands/feet
Some dietary sources of iron
There are two types of iron: heme and nonheme. Plant-based sources of iron and iron-fortified foods contain nonheme, whereas meats, seafood and poultry contain both heme and nonheme. Heme iron is generally more bioavailable (absorbed better). However, vitamin C can help with nonheme absorption.
You can find iron in meat, beef liver, chicken, chickpeas, kidney beans, oysters, fortified grains like cereals and breads, beef liver, tofu, dark chocolate, spinach, tomatoes, lentils, tofu, cashews, tuna, turkey, broccoli, raisins and potatoes (and more).
How can you be proactive?
Make sure you are getting enough iron in your diet. For adults ages 19-50, women generally need 18 mg/day (27 mg during pregnancy and 9 mg when lactating), and men need 8 mg/day. The iron requirement for women ages 51 and up drops to 8 mg.
If you have symptoms of iron deficiency, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor may want to run some blood tests and check if you are anemic. If your blood tests show you are not anemic, you still should consider nutrition testing to find out if there is a critical nutrient you are deficient in that is causing your symptoms.
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