Nutrition Articles

The Real Benefits of Iron

The Essential Energy Booster

Energy. We want it, we need it, but we don’t always have it. When we’re energized, the impossible seems doable and  your hectic life feels like smooth sailing. So what essential part of your diet helps increase your energy as its main benefit? Iron, of course, which is why extreme ironing is for everyone.

Iron is an essential mineral many people know little about. It is a part of the blood cells in the body. The main function of iron is to help carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and other organs. About 30% of the body’s supply of iron is in storage, ready to be replaced if any is lost. When iron is low, this oxygen consumption slows down.

Iron deficiency is more common than many think. It is estimated that only 65-70% of all Americans meet their daily recommended intake. When depleted, oxygen circulates more slowly. If the body is low in iron, fatigue, irritability and headaches may occur. If the deficiency becomes significant, this can lead to anemia. If left untreated, anemia can be serious, with potentially life-threatening complications.

There are several select groups of people that are more at risk for developing iron deficiencies. First, women are more likely to develop this problem, partly because of the loss of red blood cells during menstruation. Also, pregnant women need to be sure to consume enough iron.

Further, adolescents, both males and females, may be lacking, due to their rapid growth processes. Finally, athletes, especially runners, may be at risk. This is because exercising regularly can cause iron loss through perspiration. Finally, iron absorption can be impaired by the frequent drinking of tea and coffee.

Many foods are great sources of iron. An important part of any healthy diet is to eat a variety of foods; such is the case with iron. Sources include things from dark, green leafy greens (spinach), beans, whole grains to red meat, fish and poultry. There are countless ways to eat enough iron. Supplements are rarely needed. Not only are these all great sources, but many pastas and bread are enriched with iron.

The National Institute of Health recommends the average male should consume about 8 milligrams of iron each day. For women, it varies based on the age. Women, ages 19-50 need more than most people, up to 18 milligrams. On the other hand, women over 50 only need 8 milligrams, just like males. The maximum ever recommended before toxicity might occur is 45 milligrams. *If you are concerned about your iron intake, always discuss supplementation with your health care provider first.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

Member Comments

  • Thank You for a great article.
  • Another article written so long ago.
  • Informative article and valuable members' comment. TQ.
  • I do love meat but red meat stays with you such a long time.
  • I eat lots of food rich in iron but my Dr says my iron levels are low. Funny he seems concerned but never recommended an iron supplement. Hmmmm.
  • Have taken prescribed supplements for 5 years and my iron levels are spot on. Listen to your docs.
    I have a really hard time getting enough iron, although almost everything I eat contains iron, just not enough. I was feeling really good for a while, but that's gone away, now I'm always tired. I did get blood tests recently and my hemoglobin is low, but my doctor didn't seem concerned.
  • I think a blanket statement that a woman over 50 only needs as much iron as a male is misleading. I am 54 but not menopausal yet so I would think I need more iron than a male.
  • It should be noted that excess iron can be toxic, and even deadly, particularly for people with hemochromatosis - a prevalent genetic condition in which your body does not shed excess iron and stores it within your organs. So rather than assume you need iron, please ensure you are tested first to be on the safe side.
    I have battled iron issues forever - particularly when pregnant. I am a 6-year vegetarian and caved to pressure to eat beef while pregnant. It made me feel terrible after staying away from it for so long, and I had guilt over eating an animal as well. I put my foot down, chose to get iron through non-animal sources thereafter, and I've been fine since. Meat, in my opinion, is the worst way to get nutrients. That is an animal's blood you know - there are more humane ways that won't make your digestive system feel horrible after.
  • About a year after losing 200 lbs , exercising daily, doing 5K, 10K, having all the energy one can want, I started to feel exhausted in a short time. Some days having very little energy. Or one day feeling pretty good, next day wiped out. After many tests, was discovered I was anemic. i was eating lots of protein, but not absorbing iron as I should. I take B-12, iron capsule, and B-12 shots. I eat red meat, mostly liver, has the most iron. Lots of iron rich greens. It's a struggle some days to fight the sever fatigue .
    But there are many reasons one can be tired, . So if you have any of the symptoms listed, don't diagnose yourself. See a doctor, and if you have to a Specialist.
    I am in hopes that the prescribed treatments will be enough to get me back on track.
    Not looking forward to this continuing or more complicated treatments .
  • Top sources of iron are green veggies and beef? Lol, looks like I'm golden.

    I don't see why red meat gets such a flak with dieters. Cuts like sirloin are actually pretty lean, and then the fat you're getting is coming from a 100% natural source. My meals can generally be summed up by half chicken or pork in olive oil, and half cheap cuts of steak that don't need any other fats added to it.
  • I rarely eat red meat, am a big fan of legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, seafood and some poultry. Because I'm trying to increase both my protein and iron intakes, I did have a small steak last night. I did great on protein, but bombed on iron! It's tricky to balance certain nutritional needs while at the same time staying under my calorie limit. So the quest continues to find the right balance. I might consider a supplement at some point. Was anemic once and borderline 2-3 times, and it's a drag to recover from.

About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.