Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies. Iron is a primary component of two proteins: hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen to the body’s tissues. Myoglobin is the part of the muscle cells that hold oxygen.
According to the CDC, iron deficiency is the most common known form of nutritional deficiency. (1) The best way to make sure you’re not lacking in this key nutrient is to eat adequate amounts of iron-rich foods each day.
Iron Deficiency Epidemic
It is estimated that up to 80 percent of the world’s population may be deficient in iron deficient, and 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia. (2)
Symptoms of moderate to severe iron deficiency anemia include: (3)
- General fatigue
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Strange cravings to eat items that aren’t food, such as dirt, ice, or clay
- A tingling or crawling feeling in the legs
- Tongue swelling or soreness
- Cold hands and feet
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Brittle nails
- Poor concentration
- Weakened immune system
- Leaky Gut or IBS
People at a greater risk for iron deficiency anemia include: (4)
- Women of childbearing age
- Pregnant women
- People with poor diets
- People who donate blood frequently
- Infants and children, especially those born prematurely or experiencing a growth spurt
- Vegetarians who don’t replace meat with another iron-rich food
Consuming high iron foods are especially important for pe-menopausal women who have higher iron needs than men due to monthly blood losses.
If you are low in iron, it is also critical to get plenty of vitamin C in your diet since it increases iron absorption. The RDA for iron is 8 milligrams per day for men and older women, while pre-menopausal women need 18 milligrams per day.
5 Top Health Benefits of Iron
An iron deficiency is known as anemia. When there is not enough iron, the body cannot make hemoglobin which will result in light-colored red blood cells that cannot transport oxygen.
Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include lack of energy, poor mental function, and apathy. Pre-menopausal women and children are likely to get anemia if they are not consuming enough high iron foods.
2. Muscle Function
Without iron, the primary cells in the muscles, called myoglobin, cannot hold oxygen. Without oxygen, these cells will not be able to function properly, resulting in muscle weakness.
3. Brain Function
The brain is very dependent on oxygen for proper function. If iron is not present, the brain will not receive the oxygen it needs resulting in poor memory, decreased productivity, and apathy.
Children with iron deficiency tend to become irritable, restless, and are unable to pay attention in class. These symptoms will disappear once iron levels are restored.
4. Healthy Pregnancy
Pregnant women should consume more iron rich foods than anyone else. Pregnant women’s iron needs are around 27mg daily and this is often covered in a pre-natal multi-vitamin. Also, pregnant women should consider consuming more healthy fat and folate rich foods during pregnancy.
5. Restless Leg Syndrome
Top 10 Iron-Rich Foods List
3 oz: 5.6 mg (31% DV)
2) Beef steak
3 oz: 1.8 mg (10% DV)
3) Navy beans
½ c: 2.3 mg (13% DV)
4) Black beans
½ c: 1.8 mg (10% DV)
½ c: 3.2 mg (18% DV)
6) Swiss chard
½ c: 2.0 mg (11% DV)
7) Egg yolk
1 large: 0.46 mg (3% DV)
1 cup: 1.6 mg (8% DV)
1 cup: 2 mg (11% DV)
10) Collard greens
1 cup: 0.17 mg (1% DV)
If you are iron deficient consume 2 to 3 servings daily of these iron-rich foods.
It is best to obtain iron from your diet. You should only supplement with iron if you are deficient and you should do so under the supervision of a health professional. The most common side effect of iron supplements include stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and heartburn.
Although iron deficiency is extremely common, it’s thankfully also quite curable. The best way to avoid iron deficiency or recover from it, is to make sure that you are eating iron-rich foods on a daily basis.