Importance of Iron in Diet
Iron is vital to life. Every cell in the human body contains iron. Oxygenation (bringing Oxygen) of tissues and cells is accomplished by iron contained in red blood cells which carry oxygenated blood throughout the body and pick up carbon dioxide to be excreted. The human body uses iron to enhance immune system functioning, produce energy and increase oxygen distribution throughout the organ systems.
Why do I need Iron?
Iron is a mineral that makes up an important part of hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron also carries oxygen in muscles, helping them function properly. In addition, iron helps increase your resistance to stress and disease.
How much Iron do I need?
The amount of iron your body needs varies depending on your age and gender. It also depends on the amount of iron already stored in your body. If your stored iron is high, your body absorbs less iron from the foods you eat. Conversely, your ability to absorb iron increases when your stored iron is low.
When compared to men, the need for iron is found to be more in women. Iron should be supplied in greater quantities to pre-menopausal and pregnant women. Iron requirements vary according to a person’s age.
Daily Recommended quantities are:• Children: 7-10mg
• Male adolescents: 13mg
• Female adolescents: 16mg
• Women: 16mg (18mg during menstruation)
• Pregnant women: 30mg
• Breastfeeding women: 10mg
• Men: 9mg
• Elderly people: 9mg
What can happen if you have low iron levels?
If a person does not get enough iron from daily diet, he or she becomes anaemic. Anaemia is a condition in which a person’s blood has lesser number of red blood cells. It is because haemoglobin that constitutes the red blood cells requires iron for its formation. The deficiency of iron in the body get manifested as paleness, intestinal disorder, panting, palpitation and general fatigue. In extreme cases, iron deficiency might also make a man crave for non-eatables. This condition is called as pica. Iron deficiency makes the fingernails thin and fragile. Iron deficiency can also lead to ulcers, inflammatory bowel syndrome and haemorrhoids.
Who requires more iron?
Those at risk for low iron levels include:
• Women who are menstruating, especially if they have heavy periods.
• Women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby.
• Long-distance runners.
• Strict vegetarians.
• People with any type of bleeding in the intestines (for example, a bleeding ulcer).
• People who frequently donate blood.
• People with gastrointestinal conditions that make it hard to absorb nutrients from food.
Which are the Iron rich foods?
Iron is found in food in two forms, heme and non-heme iron.
• Heme iron, often found in meat products, is well absorbed. Foods containing heme iron are the best sources for increasing or maintaining healthy iron levels. Such foods include beef, organ meats, pork, poultry, fish, clams, and oysters.
Non-heme iron, often found in plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts) is not as easily absorbed as heme iron. Eggs, dairy products, and iron-containing vegetables have only the non-heme form. Such vegetable products include dried beans and peas, iron-fortified cereals, bread, pasta products, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, kale, chard), dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Some of the foods you eat may reduce your body’s ability to absorb iron. Drinking coffee or tea with a meal can decrease absorption from 50-60%. Phytates in some grains, phosphates in cola drinks, and possibly fiber may interfere with iron absorption. These may be important factors if your diet is already low in iron.