Iron Foods Can Energize Your Body

By , SparkPeople Blogger

Minerals work throughout the body to regulate processes and provide structure. Iron while an essential trace mineral, is not widely talked about. Because it can frequently be low and zap your energy, let's take a closer look at this essential nutrient.

What is it?

Iron is an abundant metal necessary to help carry oxygen to all parts of the body as part of blood cells. It is also essential for cell growth regulation and mediation. Estimates suggest 60-65 percent of the iron in our body is part of hemoglobin. Another 30 percent is stored as ferritin in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. A small portion of iron is found in transport. The amount of available iron is largely dependent on gender, body size, and blood volume with men having more iron than women do.

How much do I need?

Requirements per kilogram of body weight are highest during infancy since newborns have low iron stores at birth. They are also high in adolescents because of their rapid rate of growth. Menstruating women have a higher need than those that are non-menstruating and due to expanding blood volume, needs for women are highest during pregnancy. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for iron in infants is 11 mg/day while adolescent teens require up to 15 mg/day and pregnant women require a whopping 27 mg/day. Adult men and women over the age of 51 are encouraged to consume 8 mg of iron each day. Adult women between the ages of 19-50 should aim for 18 mg of iron each day. According to the Institutes of Medicine, vegetarian men and post-menopausal women need 14 mg daily and pre-menopause vegetarian women should aim for 33 mg each day.

Where do I find it?

There are two different types of iron. Heme iron comes from animal food sources and is two to three times more absorbable than non-heme iron from plant food sources. Heme sources of iron typically have an absorption rate of 15-35 percent with minimal influence from other foods in the diet. In comparison, non-heme iron sources have a 2-20 percent rate of absorption and are significantly influenced by other foods. This is an important point especially since intestinal absorption is the major control mechanism for iron.

Good heme sources of iron include:

Beef, lamb, veal – 2.5 mg per 3 ounce serving

Beef, chuck, lean – 3.2 mg per 3 ounce serving

Beef, lean ground: 10% fat – 3.9 mg per 3 ounce serving

Beef liver – 7.5 mg per 3 ounce serving

Beef tenderloin, roasted – 3.0 mg per 3 ounce serving

Chicken liver – 12.8 mg per 3.5 ounce serving

Boiled Shrimp – 2.6 mg per 3 ounce serving

Good non-heme sources of iron include:

Apricots, dried – 1.7 mg per 10 medium sizes fruits

Black beans, boiled – 3.6 mg per 1 cup serving

Cereal, ready-to-eat, 100% iron fortified – 18.0 mg per ¾ cup serving

Kidney beans, boiled – 5.2 mg per 1 cup serving

Lentils, boiled – 6.6 mg per 1 cup serving

Lima beans, boiled – 4.5 mg per 1 cup serving

Molasses, blackstrap – 3.5 mg per 1 tablespoon serving

Navy beans, boiled – 4.5 mg per 1 cup serving

Oatmeal, prepared instant fortified – 10 mg per 1 cup serving

Pinto beans, boiled – 3.6 mg per 1 cup serving

Spinach, fresh cooked – 6.42 mg per 1 cup serving

Tofu, raw, firm – 3.4 per ½ cup serving

Additional Considerations

Iron deficiency can gradually develop when intake and absorption does not meet daily needs by the body. Maximizing non-heme iron absorption is most important when daily intake is less than recommended, intake needs are high (during pregnancy and teen growth spurts), iron losses are high (during heavy menstruation) or when only non-heme sources are selected. Medical conditions also increase risks of anemia from iron deficiency. If you have kidney disease (especially those on dialysis) or gastrointestinal disorders (such as Celiac Disease or Crohn's Syndrome), please work with your medical team to monitor iron absorption and storage levels. People who follow dietary practices that exclude all animal products (vegan diet) are also at increased risks for iron deficiency.

Signs of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Persistent feelings of weakness and being tired
  • Changing performance at work or school
  • Body temperature irregularities
  • Frequent infections or illnesses due to decreased immune responses
  • Inflammation of the tongue
  • Sudden and persistent interest in eating non-nutritive items such as dirt or chalk (condition called pica or geophagia)
Tips and Tricks

To increase iron absorption try these tips:

  • Include a meat source of protein with plant food sources to increase plant iron absorption.
  • Include foods that provide a good source of vitamin C in the same meal with plant iron food sources since vitamin C helps with non-heme iron absorption.
  • Avoid coffee and tea with iron-rich foods since the tannins in the tea and coffee decrease iron absorption. Herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, lime flower, and pennyroyal should also be limited when maximum iron absorption is desired.
  • Spinach, beet greens, rhubarb, and Swiss chard contain an oxalate acid that binds with iron and makes it unavailable for the body. Be sure you are not relying on these vegetables as your primary plant based iron source.
  • Use a cast iron pot or skillet, especially with acidic foods for food preparation.
  • If your medical provider has recommended an iron supplement, be sure you are taking it several hours before a meal containing coffee, tea, dairy products or calcium supplements as these can significantly decrease the amount of iron absorbed.
Do you have trouble getting enough iron in your diet? What are your favorite high iron foods?

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I didn't realize that foods like spinach made it difficult for the body to utilize iron. Report
thanks, awesome! Report
I used to take my iron (ferrous gluconate) at breakfast. Now I have been taking it at bedtime and notice it does not make my stomach ache. Does that make a difference? Also, I don't drink caffeine at night so I thought it might help with absorption taking it then. Report
It's too bad I can't stand liver any more. I used to like it but I don't know what happened in the last two year to make me heave at the smell of it. However, I eat enough of red meat and other iron-rich food that I'm not worried about any insufficient intake of iron. : ) Report
thanks, awesome!I was feeling so horrible yesterday morning. My whole body was freezing. I had to put on some socks and get in the bed to warm up. I then ate a big steak for some iron and I felt fine after that. Report
I have Crohn's disease, and a year ago, I was told by my doctor that I'm borderline anemic. He wanted me to take an iron supplement, but I tried it, and it made me nauseous. I try to include good sources of iron in my diet everyday. Report
When I was young I had an iron deficiancy. What made it worse was the supplements I had to take made me sick. I ate tons of spinach (Dr.s orders) & lima beans, and my mom cooked all my foods in cast iron. I still fight it and the supplements still make me sick so I am glad these tips are available! Thanks SP! Report
My doctor wants me to eat more red meat because my iron levels are low. So, I do occasionally eat steak tips or a nice sirloin. Most of my iron comes from the vitamin fortified cereals I eat or my dark leafy green veggies. Report
Iron overdose is also one of the most common types of poisonings in the US. Careful with those supplements. Report
I always thought spinach was high in iron - oops! Report
I love spinach and eat vegetables with every meal as Mom talk me to do, especially green vegetables. I don't eat red meat so I most in tuned to getting the amount of iron needed for my daily intact. I'm told liver is a great source of iron as well and noticed chicken livers on your list, yeah! Report
I had no idea that coffee makes less iron be absorbed! I always take my iron supplement at breakfast, perhaps I would be able to take less if I took it at lunch instead! Report
The spinach comment certainly explains why I can eat More and more spinach and still be anemic. Thanks for the info Report
Spinach makes "iron unavailable to the body"? Wow! Who knew? Wasn't that what Pop-eye always ate that made him strong?
Oops...guess that'll teach me to watch cartoons! lol Report
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