Iron is a mineral that is essential for the proper function of hemoglobin, a protein needed to transport oxygen in the blood. Healthy hemoglobin levels are vital to replenish blood loss and make new red blood cells. Having a low red blood cell count results in anemia, a condition that can come with mild to severe health problems.
Healthy blood levels feed the body with enough oxygen, which is important for energy production. With enough oxygen in the blood, a person is more alert, has good concentration, gets a better night’s sleep and has a positive mental outlook. Iron is also necessary for a healthy immune system and to maintain healthy cells, which include the skin, hair and nails.
Characteristics of an Iron Deficiency
An iron deficiency can result in anemia, a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Without healthy red blood cells, your body can’t get enough oxygen, which results in fatigue, muscle weakness, mind fog, poor sleep, a weakened immune system, depression and even anxiety. Poor neurodevelopment is also associated with experiencing anemia during childhood.
Iron deficiencies can be caused by the lack of iron in the diet, as well as blood loss, heavy menstruation, severe trauma, surgery or a malignant tumour. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 80% of the world may be deficient in iron and 30% anemic.
Iron toxicity can also occur if there is too much iron in the body, which can lead to a condition known as hemochromatosis. This condition can cause diabetes, liver damage, and discolouration of the skin. Iron is stored in the body until it is used and cannot be excreted like other nutrients. For this reason, iron supplements should never be taken unless directed by a doctor. If you are concerned about your iron levels, a blood test through your family doctor can determine if you are at risk.
Iron Food Sources
There are two types of iron you can get from your dietary sources; heme and non-heme. Heme iron is easily absorbed by the body and is found in meat food sources like red meats, poultry, fish and organ meats.
Non-heme iron requires other nutrients to help the body absorb it, like vitamin C; whereas calcium and all dairy products block its absorption. Non-heme food sources include dried beans and peas, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, some vegetables and dark leafy greens.
Nutrient-Rich Whole Food Sources for Iron
This chart lists the best food sources for iron, along with that food source’s single serving size and the amount of iron in that single serving.
Iron Daily Intake Recommendations for Child and Adult
These figures are referenced from the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) 2005 system; used in Canada and the United States. The DRI system provides the minimum daily intake requirements of vitamins, minerals and nutrients for child and adult; males and females.
To find out what your daily intake requirements are for all of the essential nutrients, see the article Essential Nutrients and Beneficial Foods, posted January 16, 2017.
Try our Caramelized Onions and Sautéed Mushroom Stuffed Potatoes recipe or our Mixed Peppers and Cheese Stuffed Potatoes recipe! They are both an excellent whole food source for the essential nutrient Iron.
Written by: J. Marshall
- Canadian Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.ca
- The World’s Healthiest Foods: www.whfoods.com
- University of Maryland Medical Center: umm.edu
- Global Healing Center: www.globalhealingcenter.com
- Health Canada: Dietary Reference Intake Tables: http://hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php