All cells within the human body contain iron. This essential mineral if found in a wide range of animal and vegetarian foods. It is more common to be deficient in iron and to receive too much iron.

Iron benefits

The primary benefit iron offers is the role it plays in creating oxygen-carrying proteins which are known as hemoglobin and myoglobin. Red blood cells make use of hemoglobin while muscles make use of myoglobin. Iron is also involved as a building block for proteins within the body.

Sources of iron

Iron can be found in a variety of sources. It should be noted though, that when iron is found in non-meat foods, it is more difficult for the body to absorb. Sources of iron include:

  • Animal sources
    • Eggs (mainly the yolks)
    • Lamb
    • Liver
    • Lean red meat (beef)
    • Oysters
    • Pork
    • Poultry (dark meat)
    • Salmon
    • Shellfish
    • Tuna
  • Vegetarian sources
    • Dried fruits
      • Prunes
      • Raisins
      • Apricots
    • Legumes
      • Lima beans
      • Soybeans
      • Dried beans and peas
      • Kidney beans
    • Seeds
      • Almonds
      • Brazil nuts
    • Vegetables
      • Broccoli/li>
      • Spinach
      • Kale
      • Collards
      • Asparagus
      • Dandelion greens
    • Whole grains
      • Wheat
      • Millet
      • Oats
      • Brown rice

Fortified cereals are also an excellent source of iron, be sure to check the nutrition label prior to purchase.

Recommended amounts

Set forth by the Institute of Medicine, the daily recommendations for iron are below (some individuals may be placed on a plan that requires higher than normal amounts to manage a specific issue they may be experiencing).

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Intakes for Iron1
Age Amount
0-6 months 0.27mg/day
7-12 months 11mg/day
1-3 years 7mg/day
4-8 years 10mg/day
9-13 years 8mg/day
Males 14-18 years 11mg/day
Females 14-18 years 115mcg/day
Males 19+ years 8mg/day
Females 19-50 years 18mg/day
Females 51+ years 8mg/day
Women who are pregnant or nursing may require different daily amounts of iron. If you are in this scenario, be sure to ask your doctor about what amounts are best for you.

Iron side effects

Low iron levels
The body is able to store some iron in itself to replace what is lost but over a long period of time, when one is experiencing an iron deficiency, it can lead to anemia (low levels of red blood cells). Symptoms of anemia can be lack of energy, shortness of breath, headache, irritability, dizziness, or weight loss.

There are several groups of people who are at a risk for an iron deficiency, this list includes: women who are menstruating, women who are pregnant or recently gave birth, long-distance runners, vegetarians/vegans, people with ulcers, people who donate blood often, and people who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders that make it difficult to absorb nutrients from food. Children ages 1-4 and adolescents are both at risk of an iron deficiency. This is a result of the great rates of growth that occur during these stages in life.

High iron levels
It is usually rare for one to experience too much iron in the diet. A genetic disorder called hemochromatosis affects the body's ability to control the rate at which iron is absorbed. It is also possible to ingest too much iron via supplements or large quantities of iron rich foods. Symptoms of an over abundance of iron are: fatigue, anorexia, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, weight loss, shortness of breath, and/or a grayish color to the skin.

1Iron in diet -

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