Iron is a micronutrient that our body’s need for many functions. Iron is needed for growth and development, and to make both hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body, and myoglobin is a protein that brings oxygen to our muscles.
There are two forms of iron that are found in our diets, heme and nonheme iron. Heme iron is found in meat, poultry and seafood, while nonheme iron is found in plant foods and fortified foods. Heme iron is more readily absorbed than nonheme iron: but it is still possible to meet iron needs from nonheme iron sources.
Fortified breakfast cereals
Iron needs will vary based on age, sex, pregnancy, lactation and if someone follows a vegetarian/vegan diet. Vegetarian and vegan iron needs are higher because nonheme iron is not as easily absorbed heme iron. However, including foods high in vitamin C with nonheme iron sources will help to increase absorption of nonheme iron.
Sources of vitamin C to pair with non heme iron sources include citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwis, strawberries, and tomatoes. Coffee and tea can decrease iron absorption. Therefore, limiting coffee and tea consumed at meals can enhance iron absorption.
While our bodies store some iron, when the body’s iron stores become too low, iron deficiency anemia occurs. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, irritability and shortness of breath. Certain populations are at an increased risk for developing iron deficiency anemia.
Women of childbearing age with very heavy periods
Those with GI disorders
Infants born prematurely or at a low birth weight
Those who frequently donate blood
Athletes involved in regular intensive endurance exercise
Are you looking for an iron rich vegetarian option? Try this delicious salad combination! This recipe contains 7mg of iron and 68 mg of vitamin C! Enjoy!
2 cups Spinach
½ cup cooked Lentils*
6 medium Strawberries
6 Grape tomatoes
1 oz Feta cheese
*Nutrition facts calculated using ¼ c dried lentils
Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and owner of the private practice LNZnutrition LLC. She provides nutrition counseling and education to clients of all ages with many nutrition needs. Linzy enjoys sharing her love and nutrition expertise with others through counseling, her LNZnutrition blog and social media pages, including Facebook and Instagram.
Main Photo Credit: Ekaterina Markelova/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Evan Lorne/shutterstock.com