Nutrient to Know: Iron by Dana Angelo White in Nutrients to Know, March 30, 2010
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Without iron in your diet you’d be in big trouble, but get too much from supplements and this mineral can be toxic. Make sure you’re getting the right amount.
What Is It?
Iron is an essential mineral to life, so you want to make sure you’ve got enough in your diet. Women tend to need more than men (a man’s body stores iron better). The daily recommendation for healthy adults is 18 milligrams, which you can easily get from food.
While it would be difficult to overdose on iron-rich foods, high doses of iron supplements can be toxic and cause liver damage. Many women’s formula multivitamins contain some iron, which is safe, but it’s never a good idea to take a separate iron supplement unless you’ve been diagnosed with a deficiency by a doctor. If you think you need more iron, ask your physician; checking just takes a quick blood test.
Why Is It Good For You?
Red blood cells rely on iron to carry oxygen throughout the body (yes, that’s pretty important!). Iron also helps regulate cell growth and contributes to healthy muscles and a stronger immune system.
Not getting enough iron causes a condition known as iron deficiency anemia. Some of the symptoms include extreme fatigue, weakness, dizziness, pale skin, headache and unusual cravings for eating ice and even dirt! Treatment typically includes adding more iron-rich foods to your diet (more on those below) along with a properly dosed supplement — but remember check with the doc first!
Where Can I Find It?
You can find iron in both plant and animal sources. Even though our bodies absorb the iron from animal proteins (meat and fish) better, beans, iron-fortified cereals and whole grains can also help you meet your needs.
Here’s a tip: Eat iron-rich foods with other foods high in vitamin C — this enhances iron absorption. On the flip side, avoid eating high-iron foods with coffee or calcium-rich foods — they actually block the absorption.
- Some Iron-Rich Foods:
- 1 cup cooked oatmeal (iron-fortified) = 10 milligrams (60% of total need)
- 1/2 cup firm tofu = 4 milligrams (22%)
- 3 ounces cooked lean beef = 3 milligrams (20%)
- 1/2 cup cooked spinach = 3 milligrams (20%)
- 1/2 cup kidney beans = 2.75 milligrams (15%)
- 3 ounces grilled chicken breast = 1 milligram (6%)
- 3 ounces cooked halibut = 1 milligram (6%)