Iron-deficiency anemia, the most common form of anemia, is a decrease in the number of red blood cells caused by too little iron. Without sufficient iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that makes it possible for them to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. As a result, you may feel weak, tired, and irritable. About 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men do not have enough iron in their body. The solution, in many cases, is to consume more foods high in iron.
How Your Body Uses Iron in Food: When you eat food with iron, iron is absorbed into your body mainly through the upper part of your small intestine. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin. It is found in animal foods that originally contained hemoglobin, such as red meats, fish, and poultry (meat, poultry, and seafood contain both heme and non-heme iron). Your body absorbs the most iron from heme sources. Most nonheme iron is from plant sources.
Iron deficiency is the most common form of nutritional deficiency – especially among children and pregnant women – according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Not getting enough can cause iron deficiency anemia and make you more susceptible to illness and infections; it can even cause premature delivery in pregnant women. So how much should you be getting? Women ages 19 to 50 should be consuming 18 milligrams of iron per day – and a whopping 27 milligrams if they’re pregnant – while men at this age only need 8 milligrams. “There are two types of iron: Heme iron from animal sources and non-heme iron from plant sources,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, and New York Times bestselling author. “It’s important to get both types from your diet.”
Iron is an essential mineral used to transport oxygen to all parts of the body. A slight deficiency in iron causes anemia (fatigue/weakness), and a chronic deficiency can lead to organ failure.
Conversely, too much iron leads to production of harmful free radicals, and interferes with metabolism, causing damage to organs like the heart and liver. The body is able to regulate uptake of iron, so overdose is rare and usually only occurs when people take supplements. Iron from natural food sources, like the ones listed below, are considered safe and healthy. While iron is better absorbed from heme (meat) sources, non-heme (plant) iron is better regulated causing less damage to the body. High iron foods include clams, liver, sunflower seeds, nuts, beef, lamb, beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens (spinach), dark chocolate, and tofu. The current daily value (DV) for iron is 18 milligrams (mg).
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- Squash and Pumpkin Seeds
- Cashew, Pine, Hazelnut, Peanut, Almond
- Beans, Lentils
- Whole Grains, Fortified Cereals, Bran
- Dark Leafy Greens (Spinach, Swiss Chard)
- Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder
- Sesame Seeds
- Mushrooms, Berries, Mulberries
- Apricots, dried fruits, Coconut
- Asparagus, Leeks, Scallions
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