Like with all other vitamins and minerals, supplying your body with enough iron nutrition is extremely important to maintain your well-being and keep you safe from diseases. From a biological standpoint, iron is considered a trace nutrient. Your body only needs a small amount of this mineral to fit its needs. However, regardless of the trivial amount, iron is present in every cell of your body, and adequate iron must be supplied to avoid serious consequences of iron deficiency.
Why Do You Need Iron?
The most important role of iron is to make your hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is the core component of your red blood cells, and iron sits at the center of this molecule. How well you supply your body with iron directly impacts the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells. Depletion of iron significantly reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood. Therefore, enough adequate iron nutrition is mandatory to make enough healthy red blood cells to keep your body well oxygenated and prevent anemic symptoms like: fatigue and weakness, impaired cognitive function and irregular body temperature. Iron deficiency can also impact your immune system and make you more susceptible to inflammations and infectious diseases.
Myoglobin is the protein that carries and stores oxygen in your muscles. It is responsible for the pigmentation of red meat and is the reason why well oxygenated muscles appear pinkish in color. Structurally, myoglobin is similar to hemoglobin. It also uses iron as the oxygen-binder. Sufficient iron intake optimizes your myoglobin production and ensures muscle fiber integrity, leading to better muscle strength and endurance.
How Much Iron Is Adequate?
Your need for iron varies depending on your sex, age, health condition and activity level. Since significant iron is lost during bleeding and menstruation, you need to adjust your iron intake if you get hurt or during your period. Pregnant or lactating women also have an increased demand for iron to support the rapid development of the baby. Body builders and athletes may also require more iron intake.
Your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron is as follows:
- Men ages 19 and above: 8 milligrams per day
- Non-menstruating women ages 19 and above: 15 milligrams per day
- Menstruating women: 18 milligrams per day
- Pregnant women: 30 milligrams per day
- Breastfeeding women: 25 milligrams per day
For purposes of food labeling, the FDA sets the daily iron intake reference (RDI) at 18 milligrams.
Too much iron is also problematic. Overdose of iron can increase the concentration of free radicals and cause severe damages to your liver, heart and other organs. The upper tolerance limit for iron is set at 45 milligrams per day, but in general, you should not exceed your RDA by more than 5 milligrams.
Best Dietary Sources of Iron
The best way to keep your body supplied with iron is by regular intake of iron-rich foods. Animal products like red meats, liver and egg yolks are superb sources of bioactive iron. You can also get lots of iron from beans and dark leafy vegetables, but vegetarian iron is more difficult for your body to absorb.
In short, be attentive to your body and modify your diet accordingly, and you should be well protected from any illness.