Iron is a metallic element necessary for the proper functioning of the body, so that we feel healthy and have the necessary energy. In particular, it contributes to the transport of oxygen to tissues, is part of various enzymes that play a key role in various metabolic processes, while sufficient iron intake is necessary for the normal functioning of the immune system.
In addition, iron is essential for proper brain function at all ages, because it participates in both the functioning and synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin. The lack it causes fatigue, weakness, even anemia, brittle nails and a slow metabolism.
The World Health Organization estimates that around 700 million people suffer from iron deficiency, making it the leading nutritional deficiency, primarily in developing countries.
Symptoms of iron deficiency vary depending on:
- The severity of anemia
- How fast it grows
- Your current state of health
It is estimated that 10 mg of iron is required to meet the daily needs of an adult man and a postmenopausal woman, while the daily requirement of an adult woman of childbearing age is 15 mg per day. Iron requirements differ for other age groups and for pregnant women.
How to fight iron deficiency through nutrition
Iron from animal foods is called heme and is very easily absorbed by our body, compared to iron from plant foods and is called non-heme.
Some foods of animal origin contain more than others and these are:
Liver of beef
Iron content: 7 mg per 80 gram serving. We all know that red meat is a good source of iron, but liver is the best choice when it comes to iron content.
Iron content: 5 mg per 80 gram serving. Just 80 grams of oysters can provide nearly half of the recommended daily iron intake. Above all, they are a good choice because they provide protein and iron, while being low in calories compared to other foods.
Iron content: 4 mg per cup. Sardines are a very good source of iron. They are also rich in vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to good heart health.
Iron content: 3 mg per 80 gram serving. You may think that beef contains a lot of iron, but it’s not one of the top choices because it provides about 11 percent of the amount you need daily.
What to do if you don’t eat meat
Although you can meet your iron needs through a plant-based diet, it is important to be very careful with food combinations because only a small percentage of non-heme iron is absorbed by the body.
So, for better absorption of iron from foods containing non-heme iron, it is recommended to include foods rich in vitamin C in our meals, such as oranges, melon, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage de Bruxelles, green pepper, grapefruit, lemons and strawberries.
For example, lentils are a very good source of iron, which is however non-heme, and therefore very poorly absorbable. But if you accompany the lentils with broccoli and an orange juice, the absorption of iron in the lentils will increase a lot.
Avoid combining iron-rich foods with:
- Tea, coffee and red wine, as the tannins they contain reduce absorption.
- Foods high in calcium, which binds iron. For example, when eating lentils, prefer not to accompany them with cheese.
- Vegetable fibers (eg whole grain products), as they also reduce the absorption of iron by the body.
- The oxalic acids contained for example in spinach, beetroot, chocolate, tea etc.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women need more iron to carry oxygen to the baby and reproductive organs. It is good to consult your doctor if you need a supplement.
Two other groups that have increased iron needs are infants, where their needs increase after six months, and women of childbearing age, because they lose a lot of blood during their periods.
If you think you may have an iron deficiency, see your doctor for a blood test to see if you need to undergo any form of treatment or change your diet.