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.
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)
- Lean red meat (beef)
- Poultry (dark meat)
- Vegetarian sources
- Dried fruits
- Lima beans
- Dried beans and peas
- Kidney beans
- Brazil nuts
- Dandelion greens
- Whole grains
- Brown rice
Fortified cereals are also an excellent source of iron, be sure to check the nutrition label prior to purchase.
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|
|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|
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 - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002422.htm