Iron

Iron

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Overview

Dietary sources of iron include two types: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is better absorbed and comes mainly from the hemoglobin and myoglobin in meat, while non-heme iron is found in plant food. Vitamin C, organic acids, and meats enhance iron absorption. On the other hand, phytates, polyphenols, and soy protein reduce our ability to absorb iron.

Importance

Iron has many functions in the body including:

  • Helping to form hemoglobin (which stores about ⅔ of the body’s iron) and myoglobin, and assisting in the transport and storage of oxygen
  • Assisting in enzymatic activities responsible for increasing red blood cell formation, blood vessel growth, and production of anaerobic energy
  • Helping to form the cytochromes involved with cellular energy production and drug metabolism
  • Forming an essential constituent of hundreds of proteins and enzymes.

Food Sources

Iron can be found in several foods including:

  • Red meat (which includes dark-fleshed fish such as tuna, and poultry such as ostrich and duck)
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Sesame seeds
  • Kidney beans
  • Potatoes
  • Molasses
  • Prunes
  • Cashews
  • Chickpeas
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Navy beans.

Deficiencies

Common symptoms and resulting conditions of iron deficiency include:

  • Anemia with small and pale red blood cells
  • Behavioral abnormalities (in children)
  • Spoon shaped nails that curl upwards (Koilonychia).

However, your individual response could be different. If you suspect a health problem or deficiency in certain nutrients, please see your primary health care provider (doctor, naturopath, etc). They can help unravel the complexity of your physiology.

Excess/Toxicity

Common symptoms of iron excess/toxicity include:

  • Acute vomiting, nausea, shock, and potentially death
  • Chronic increases in risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, your individual response could be different. If you suspect a health problem or an excess of certain nutrients, please see your primary health care provider (doctor, naturopath, etc). They can help unravel the complexity of your physiology.

Note: Iron overdose is a common cause of poisoning in children.

Recipe

For recipes rich in iron, check out any of the Encyclopedia of Food entries for food items listed above!

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At a Glance

Iron is an important mineral, which takes two forms: heme iron (which is better absorbed and found mostly in meat) and non-heme iron (found in plants). Iron assists in oxygen flow, red blood cell formation and blood vessel growth, energy production, and metabolism function. It also helps other proteins and enzymes take form in the body. Red meat, legumes, spinach, and sesame seeds are all good dietary sources of iron.