Iron, a key nutrient that is often associated with power and energy. This essentially important mineral is responsible for performing many important body functions. The human body is incapable of producing iron and the only natural way to get iron is through foods.
Iron deficiency in the body can lead to severe consequences and can negatively affect a person’s life. Eating iron-rich foods and keeping a check on your iron levels is the key to retain a normal level of iron in the body.
Functions of Iron in Human Body
Being an essentially required nutrient, there are many different roles that iron performs in our body. Some of the bodily function that requires the presence of iron is as follows; b
- Most of the body iron (70%) is present as haemoglobin and myoglobin. Haemoglobin (Hg or Hgb) is the protein present in our blood responsible for carrying oxygen and carbon dioxide from organs and tissues. Just like haemoglobin, myoglobin is present in muscle that is responsible for accepting, storing and transporting oxygen needed for proper muscle activity.
- Iron plays an important role in the formation of important proteins essential to play many important roles such as metabolism, respiratory function, collagen synthesis and formation of neurotransmitters.
- It is also important for an efficient immune system. Iron plays a role in the multiplication and maturation of immune system cells that are responsible for generating response against the infection.
- The presence of iron in our body is also associated with brain functions. Good iron levels in the body play their role in cognitive brain function that accounts for learning, memory, concertation and problem-solving ability of the brain.
How iron is processed in the body?
Talking about the presence of iron in the body, you will be surprised to know that iron present in the body in free-state is toxic. Thus the presence of iron in bound form with other protein is the way you can expect to see iron in your body. Thus depending upon the type of protein that binds with the protein.
The iron processing ability of our body depends upon many different factors and one among them is the presence of vitamin C in the blood. Thus, to retain your iron levels, it is necessary to ensure the proper consumption of vitamin C through your diet for maximum iron absorption in the body. Good sources of vitamin C include bell pepper, citrus fruits, leafy veggies etc.
How much Iron do I need?
Just like all other nutrients, our bodies require a certain amount of iron present. The daily iron requirement just like your calories can vary from person to person. The iron you need in a day depends upon your age, sex, dietary habits and other associated medical condition. Here is all you know about your daily iron requirement (mg).
|Age Group||Daily Requirements (mg)|
|Breastfeeding mothers (younger than 19 years)||10|
|Breastfeeding mothers (19-50 years)||9|
Decreased Iron levels in the Body
Not only too little iron is bad for the body but similarly overloading your system with too much iron can also negatively affect your health.
Considering all the important roles iron plays in our body, it is important to get the right amount of iron. However, in case you are not getting enough iron or your body is unable to process it properly, you can become deprived of iron, leading to a condition known as anaemia.
What is Anemia?
Anaemia is a medical condition characterized by a reduced number of red blood cells or lower haemoglobin levels. This is a commonly occurring condition and affects a large population.
Many factors can increase your risk of developing anaemia, such as;
- Genetics, many different forms of anaemia can be a part of your genetic makeup.
- Blood loss during menstruation can put women at risk of anaemia.
- High demand for blood during pregnancy can also be a potential cause of anaemia.
- Chronic medical conditions such as kidney diseases can also increase your risk of anaemia, especially in older patients.
- A nutritionally insufficient diet that lacks iron-rich foods in it.
- Intestinal disorders can affect the absorption of iron in the body.
Types of Anaemia
Anaemia is not only due to iron deficiency. Many other things can result in anaemia and can have causes other than blood deficiency. Different types of anaemia include;
- Iron deficiency anaemia (the most common type of anaemia and the one we are going to talk about)
- Vitamin deficiency anaemia (mainly B12 vitamin is responsible for this kind of anaemia)
- Aplastic anaemia (due to the body’s inability to produce red blood cells)
- Anaemia due to inflammatory diseases (AIDS, arthritis, kidney diseases etc.)
- Hemolytic anaemia (red blood cells are destroyed at a fast pace than they are formed
- Sickle cell anaemia (due to defective haemoglobin that is unable to carry sufficient oxygen)
What are iron-deficiency anaemia signs to look for?
Depending upon the cause and type of anaemia, signs and symptoms may vary. Many forms of anaemia could be asymptomatic or can be indicated by the following symptoms
- Pale colouration
- Irregular heartbeats
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
How to treat iron deficiency anaemia?
Depending upon the severity of disease and apparent signs and symptoms of iron supplementations, blood transfusions and eating iron-rich foods are the possible treatments for iron deficiency anaemia. When it comes to the treatment we mostly rely upon iron-rich foods as the safest treatment options.
Heme VS. Non-heme Iron
Before we head towards the list of foods with high iron content, here is what we need to understand about heme and nonheme iron. Dietary absorbable iron can be classified into two categories;
- Heme iron is the type of iron that comes from animal food sources mainly in the form of haemoglobin and myoglobin. Heme iron is easily absorbable and can be seen contributing to the total iron absorbed in the blood.
- In contrast, non-heme iron also exists in our body. Non-heme iron comes from plant sources and iron-fortified foods. This iron is not as easy to get absorbed as the heme iron.
If you are wondering what iron-rich foods you can eat to cure iron deficiency anaemia, here is the list of foods to consider!
Iron-Rich Foods to Treat Anemia
Your food choices can have a significant impact when it comes to treating iron deficiency anaemia. Fortunately, there are many foods that you can add to your diet and fight iron deficiency. These iron-rich superfoods are readily available can positively impact the blood-deficiency.
Here are the foods that contain a lot of iron.
1- Organ meat
Organ meat sources are the first on the list when it comes to the foods that provide heme iron. Organ meats particularly liver, kidney, heart and brain are rich in iron content. Not only iron but eating organ meat provides you with other essential vitamins as well.
Eating 3 ounces of beef liver can fulfil 28% of DV (daily value).
Consuming beans and legumes can also help you to regain the iron levels. Legumes, including beans, lentils and chickpeas are a potential source of iron especially if you are on a vegetarian diet. Other than iron, legumes are a rich source of soluble fibre that aids in digestion and keeps you full for a longer time.
3- Pumpkin seeds
Eating seeds can provide you with many health benefits including high iron content as well. Pumpkin seeds can also help you to improve your iron levels as one ounce of these seeds accounts for 14% DV by providing 2.5mg iron.
4- Iron-rich fruits
Eating natural and fresh foods is one of the first things that can help you to find the right nutrition and that too with little or no side effects. Here are some of the iron-rich fruits that you can add to your diet to help you fight anaemia.
- Dried fruits- Dried fruits are among the fruits that can provide sufficient protein content. Popular dried foods that can provide good protein content are dried peaches (36% DV), dried raisins (24% DV), dried figs (17% DV), dried pears (31% DV) etc.
- Berries- Eating berries can provide you with the iron content you might be looking for. Some of the berries that are high in protein include raspberries (9% DV), mulberries (14% DV), blackberries (7% DV), elderberries (13% DV) and strawberries (6% DV) etc.
5- Iron-rich vegetables
Vegetables are the rich source of many important vitamins and minerals and iron is no exception to this list. Many leafy green vegetables provide you with good amounts of iron and are considered iron-rich vegetables. Some of the iron-rich vegetables include;
- Leafy greens- No one can deny the importance of spinach as an iron-rich vegetable and can provide 15% of DV. Other than spinach, collard, kale and other leafy greens are also iron-rich vegetables.
- Broccoli- Another iron-rich vegetable that gives 0.7mg iron per 100g serving.
- String beans, cabbage, sprouts are among the vegetables known for their high iron content.
6- Iron Fortified Cereals and pseudocereals
Cereals are one of the most popular meal options and can be a good source of iron. Iron-fortified cereals can help to fulfil the iron deficiency. Other than the fortified cereals, quinoa- a pseudocereal is also rich in iron as well as known for its many benefits.
Next in the list of iron-rich foods is the tofu that is made from condensed soy milk. Tofu making process has its similarity with the process of cheese manufacturing. It is highly rich in protein and contains 9 amino acids alongside other important vitamins and minerals. Tofu yields 5.4mg iron per 100g serving which is quite good. You can add tofu to your list of iron-rich foods while preventing and treating anaemia.
8- Dark chocolate
Eating dark chocolate offers many health benefits. Dark chocolate is a good source of fibres, antioxidants as well as provides a good amount of iron. 100g of dark chocolate yields almost 12.1mg of iron that accounts for 19% DV.
Iron-rich foods can help to prevent as well as treat iron deficiency anaemia. These natural foods are a good replacement for iron supplements and blood transfusions. However, eating these foods in moderation is the only way to have the right amount of iron in the blood. It is advisable to consult a nutritionist while looking for advice on making food choices.