Iron Rich Foods: The Essentials of Iron | HealthiNation

Uploaded by HealthiNation on 16.02.2012

I’m Lynn Goldstein, a Registered Dietitian.
Iron is one of the most plentiful metals on Earth and it isn’t just for building skyscrapers.
Iron is an essential building block of our own structure: We need iron for everything
from transporting oxygen around the body to regulating cell growth.
Normally, the body absorbs about 10% of the iron in the foods we eat. But iron is so vital,
our bodies are able to recycle the iron it needs from our old red blood cells when it
has to. Talk about sustainable construction!
Without enough iron, you can develop a condition called anemia. The World Health Organization
ranks iron deficiency as the #1 nutritional disorder. Nearly 80% of the world's population
may not get enough iron, and as many as 30% may have full-blown iron deficiency anemia.
When you’re anemic, your body doesn’t have the iron it needs to make hemoglobin
(found in our blood cells) and myoglobin (found in our muscles). (It’s the iron in these
two proteins that gives both blood and muscle it’s red color.) Hemoglobin and myoglobin
are responsible for carrying and storing oxygen in our body. When the body doesn’t get the
oxygen it needs, it can cause a range of symptoms like pale skin, fatigue, and vulnerability
to infection. Cold hands and feet, dizziness, headaches and even an irregular heartbeat
can also by symptoms of anemia.
Not having enough iron can be caused by a number of things: blood loss (including internal
bleeding over time say, from an ulcer or certain tumors, or even, in some women, having heavy
periods), poor nutrition, the demands of pregnancy, or an inability to absorb enough iron from
Meat is an especially iron-rich food and the form of iron in meat is absorbed especially
easily by the body. It’s called “heme” iron and it’s also found in liver, seafood,
and poultry. Plants contain non heme iron which is less efficiently absorbed but are
still great choices. These include dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach), beans and
iron-fortified foods like certain breakfast cereals, breads and pastas. Even some dried
fruits like raisins and apricots, as well as certain nuts and seeds, can pack a hearty
iron punch.
Research has shown that you body absorbs iron more easily when iron-rich food is eaten with
foods containing lots of Vitamin C, Good choices for those include fruits like melons, strawberries,
kiwis and mangoes, and vegetables like broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and even potatoes.
There are also foods that can decrease iron absorption from plant sources. So listen up
vegetarians! You especially need to know this. These include soybeans, legumes and whole
grains, and foods containing calcium.
Too much iron isn’t good either. In fact, it can be deadly. Hemochromatosis (or Iron
Overload Disease) is an inherited condition in which too much iron builds up in the body.
Despite the complicated name, it’s one of the most common genetic diseases in the US!
When someone has this condition, during digestion the body absorbs a lot more iron than it needs
and then has no way of getting rid of it. The extra iron is stored in body tissues,
especially the heart, liver and pancreas. Over time, iron levels can become dangerously
high, and those organs can be damaged or even fail completely. Taking too many iron supplements
can also lead to iron poisoning.
Trying to adjust iron levels yourself can be hazardous. See your doctor if you suspect
you might have either too much or too little iron in your system.
As a Registered Dietitian, I know that designing a healthy diet can sometimes feel as complicated
as constructing high rises, but eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean
meats is a great foundation to build on.