Iron is an essential trace element required by all living organisms. It helps to synthesize collagen and serotonin, supports the immune system and participates in metabolic processes . But the main function of iron is cellular respiration. This trace element is part of hemoglobin, the protein that makes up red blood cells. It is iron that helps blood cells bind oxygen and deliver it to tissues, and then remove waste carbon dioxide from the body. By the way, it also stains the blood red.
Our body is not able to produce iron on its own. He gets it from food, so it is important that the food is varied. There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. The first is absorbed more efficiently . It can be found in meat, fish, and seafood. The source of the second is plant food. Here is a list of the foods with the highest iron content for both types. Including them in the diet will help replenish micronutrient reserves.
© Ella Olsson / Pexels
Daily iron intake
Most of all women need iron from 19-50 years old. They need to receive at least 18 mg of a trace element per day. During pregnancy, the need for it increases to 27 mg. Adolescents 14-18 years old also require an increased iron content: girls - 15 mg, boys - 11 mg. The average daily intake of iron for adult men and older adults of both sexes is 8 mg . It increases significantly with intense sports, regular heavy physical exertion and heavy menstruation.
Foods high in iron
- Red meat
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark chocolate
Almost all types of shellfish are rich in iron. Thus, one hundred-gram serving of oysters contains about 3 mg of iron, which is 17% of the daily requirement . In addition, this amount also provides 24% of the daily value for vitamin C and 4% of the daily value for vitamin B12. Shellfish are also low in calories, high in protein, and raise the level of "good" cholesterol, which prevents heart disease.
The liver, kidneys, brain, heart, stomachs, and other organ meats are high in iron. Although not everyone likes their taste, by-products are often superior to meat in nutrient content. For example, to get 36% of the daily value of iron and meet the daily need for vitamin A, it is enough to eat only 100 g of beef liver . Plus, offal is a good source of protein, copper, selenium and choline, which is important for the liver.
It is the main source of highly digestible heme iron. Moreover, the darker the meat, the more of this trace element it contains. One 100-gram steamed ground beef patty contains 2.7 mg of iron. This meets the daily requirement by 15% . Meat also serves as a source of protein, zinc, selenium and vitamins of group B. But poultry is not so rich in iron: in 100 g of turkey its content does not exceed 0.7 mg .
© Andrijana Bozic / Unsplash
Such a rich set of nutrients, as in spinach, is rare. It contains folate, lutein, beta-carotene, calcium, vitamins A and E. In addition, 100 g of the product replenish 15% of the daily value of iron. It is non-heme, but at the same time it is quite well absorbed due to the high concentration of vitamin C in spinach. Doctors advise boiling the leaves a little - this will help reduce the amount of oxalic acid, which prevents the absorption of iron .
But keep in mind: 100g fresh spinach is a big bag. It is designed for several people, and it is hardly possible to eat it at a time. In addition, spinach tends to accumulate nitrates, which are often used in its cultivation. Buy the product in proven farm shops or in special organic packaging. Or try growing it yourself - on a windowsill. In winter, instead of fresh spinach, you can take frozen spinach: all its beneficial properties and taste are preserved.
This is a must-have for vegetarians and vegans. Legumes are one of the best plant sources of iron. Chickpeas, peas, lentils, beans, soybeans - choose what you love. One cup of cooked lentils contains 6.6 mg of iron. This is 37% of the daily value . And half a glass of boiled beans is enough to fill 10% of the daily requirement for an element . In addition, legumes can help you feel fuller for a long time and reduce your calorie intake .
Pumpkin seeds can be a snack option. 100 g of the product contains 9 mg of iron, or half the daily recommended value . But you can't get carried away with them. First, it can cause problems with the gastrointestinal tract. Secondly, pumpkin seeds are very nutritious. A 100-gram serving provides 559 kcal. To increase iron levels without harming your health, add a small handful of seeds to salad, porridge, or soup.
South American cereals are often used as a substitute for gluten-containing cereals. Add 100 grams of boiled seeds to your favorite salad to replenish 8% of your daily iron requirement . Unlike traditional cereals, quinoa contains a lot of protein, which contains essential amino acids . Interestingly, our body perceives quinoa as a protein from cow's milk.
© Engin Akyurt / Pexels
A diet rich in broccoli can help improve vision, reduce inflammation, and slow down aging. Broccoli cleanses the body, removes cholesterol and excess sugar. Use it as a side dish - a glass of cooked broccoli provides 6% of your daily iron requirement . For maximum benefits, steam the broccoli for no longer than 5 minutes. This will help preserve vitamin C.
Making tofu is similar to making cheese from milk - which is why many call it soy cheese. In terms of its nutritional properties, it is almost equal to dairy products - for this it is loved by vegans and people with lactose intolerance. 100 g of tofu cheese contains 17 g of protein, which is easily and quickly absorbed by the body. In addition, the same amount of the product helps to cover 15% of the daily value for iron .
Chocolate not only brings pleasure and stimulates the production of the "happiness hormone", but also helps to normalize iron levels. Choose chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa . Nutritionists advise eating no more than a quarter of a bar of chocolate a day. This will be enough to offset 17% of your daily iron requirement, improve your gut microflora and lift your mood.
© Dovile Ramoskaite / Unsplash
Why iron deficiency is dangerous
Iron deficiency is usually asymptomatic at first. But if you do not replenish its reserves in time, you can provoke the development of iron deficiency anemia . Its main symptoms are: weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, pallor, drowsiness, loss of appetite, heart palpitations and headaches . You may be tempted to eat something inedible - chalk, clay, paper or ice. With a lack of iron, the cells begin to "suffocate", which is why many vital metabolic processes are disrupted in the body.
Iron deficiency also contributes to decreased immunity and a high risk of infections . It is also one of the causes of hair loss. The trace element is responsible for delivering oxygen to the follicles, thereby strengthening and nourishing the roots. With its deficiency, hair becomes dry and weak and may begin to fall out . Other external signs include sores in the corners of the mouth, dry skin, brittle peeling nails. According to a study by Japanese scientists, in some cases, iron deficiency causes depression .
© Engin Akyurt / Pexels
If you notice signs of iron deficiency, seek medical attention. He will order blood tests, determine the source of the problem and be able to draw up a treatment plan based on your individual characteristics.
Evgeniya Maevskaya, Ph. D., gastroenterologist and nutritionist, GMS Clinic
How often do you need to take a blood test in order to find out about the lack of iron in time?
The frequency depends on many factors: general health status, clinical signs of an overt or latent deficiency, getting into a risk group for iron deficiency or the presence of chronic diseases, including the gastrointestinal tract.
For a potentially healthy person, it is enough to monitor blood counts every six months. However, a general analysis is not enough. At a minimum, it should be supplemented with testing for serum iron and ferritin, otherwise the signs of latent deficiency can be missed. In some cases, a more rare test is needed - for soluble transferrin receptors. This is determined only by the doctor.
Is it possible to fill the iron deficiency only with plant foods? What is the best advice for vegetarians and vegans?
Treatment of anemia with iron alone in food is not possible due to its low content and low bioavailability. Anemia can only be treated with iron supplements.
Vegetarians and vegans should eat as varied as possible, including plant-based sources of iron, such as seaweed, in their diet. If applicable, shrimp, mussels and sea fish can serve as a good source of iron. For vegetarians, it is better to get tested and make sure that there is no atrophy in the stomach and problems in the intestines. With atrophy and insufficient acidity of the stomach, the transition of non-heme iron from plant food to the assimilable heme form is significantly difficult, which means that it will not be absorbed.
What if a person notices symptoms of iron deficiency?
At the first symptoms of iron deficiency, you should consult a doctor. It is important not only to correct the deficit, but also, most importantly, to identify its cause. It is impossible to do this on your own.
Why is excess iron in the body dangerous?
The so-called iron overload is certainly dangerous. It can lead to damage to internal organs, fibrosis in organs and tissues. There is also evidence of direct damage to the genetic apparatus of cells. Most often, the liver, pancreas and myocardium are affected - this manifests itself in the form of toxic cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias. This situation is more likely with parenteral or enteral uncontrolled iron administration. Food cannot be the cause of excess iron in any way.