Iron is one of many minerals intrinsic to good health. It's essential to the production of hemoglobin, the regulatory protein that gives red blood cells their color. It also transports oxygen from the lungs and delivers it to the muscles and other organs around the body. The importance of proper iron nutrition is often overlooked.
Daily Iron Allowance
If you don't have enough iron in your diet, it can result in iron deficiency and its related symptoms, which include fatigue, decreased immunity, increased menstrual discomfort in women, dizziness, headaches and even the development of anemia. Work performance may also be affected. The recommended daily allowance of iron for men ages 19 to 50 is between 8 and 11mg. For women ages between 19 and 50, the RDA is between 15 and 18mg.
Types of Iron
There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is obtained from hemoglobin and is found in animal foods such as fish, poultry and red meats. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods.
The following list contains food sources for both heme and non-heme iron. You may already be consuming a good amount of iron, and this list can help you refine your intake.
- Leafy Green Vegetables – Vegetables such as kale, spinach, watercress, collard and mustard greens contain moderate levels of iron and all cook easily. A half-cup of spinach contains up to 3.5mg of iron, and a half-cup serving of turnip greens contains almost 2mg of iron. These vegetables can be incorporated into meals or used as side dishes.
- Whole grains – Iron-fortified whole grains are one of the most overlooked sources of iron. They are found in a large variety of cereals, bread, pasta and rice, and as such are an easy addition to your diet. A single serving of oatmeal contains 10mg of iron, while a serving of iron-fortified cereal contains 18mg of iron. Substituting white bread for whole meal and granary varieties is as simple way to increase your iron intake.
- Legumes and Pulses – Legumes and pulses such as soybeans, lentils, kidney beans and black beans contain high levels of iron and can be used in soups, casseroles or as side dishes. There are almost 9mg of iron in one cup of boiled soybeans, 7mg in a cup of boiled lentils and more than 5mg in one cup of boiled kidney beans.
- Seafood – Seafood such as oysters, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels, tuna and salmon are a surprisingly rich source of iron. For instance, one serving of clams provides the entire RDA of iron for both men and women.
- Red Meat – One of the best foods for iron nutrition is red meat. Generally, the darker the red of the meat, the more iron it contains. Beef, pork and lamb are some of the richest sources of iron, with 3 ounces of beef containing 3mg.
- Liver – Liver is arguably the best source of iron in an uncommonly consumed food. A small 3.5 ounce serving of chicken liver contains a massive 13mg of iron.
These are just a few foods that you can include in your diet and tailor to work for you. By teaming these foods with a range of other fruits, vegetables and meats, you can ensure you receive proper iron nutrition.