Wondering “how much iron do I need?” Iron is a mineral needed by our bodies; just like vitamins, minerals help your body grow, develop, and stay healthy.
Without iron, the body can’t make enough hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying part of the red blood cell. Even though iron is widely available in food, most people are not getting enough of it in their diet. The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world. As many as 80 percent of the world’s population may be iron deficient, while 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia.
Having too little iron in your system can impair body functions, but most physical signs and symptoms do not show up unless iron deficiency anemia occurs. Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include feelings of fatigue or weakness, difficulty regulating body temperature, and decreased immune function. Most common causes of iron deficiency anemia include blood loss, pregnancy, inability to absorb iron, and lack of iron in your diet.
While your body is very good at adapting to lower or higher levels of iron by absorbing more or less, respectively, the dietary recommendations are set to meet the needs of the majority of the population. Here is the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for iron consumption:
- Males- age 14-18: 11mg per day; age 19 and older: 8 mg per day
- Females- age 14-18: 15 mg per day; age 19-50: 18 mg per day; age 52 and older: 8 mg per day
Iron in food exists as two types: heme and non-heme. Animal foods such as red meat, fish and poultry provide heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods such as spinach, whole grains, beans, and fortified cereals, but is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of non-heme iron.
Consider the following tips to enhance your iron intake by combining non-heme iron sources with vitamin C rich foods:
- Foods that contain both iron and vitamin C include strawberries, potatoes, watermelon, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes and dark-green leafy vegetables like kale and bok choy.
- Eat a bowl of chili. You’ll get your iron from the beans and Vitamin C from the tomatoes and bell peppers.
- Make a spinach salad with oranges or papaya. Spinach is rich with iron; while oranges and papayas are great sources of vitamin C.
- Top your cereal with strawberries. You get iron from the cereal and vitamin C from strawberries or have a cup of orange juice.
- Try a healthy spin on your traditional stir-fry. Substitute quinoa for rice to get a great source of iron and add broccoli, asparagus, bok choy, and other veggies full of vitamin C.
It may be helpful to consult with a nutritionist about your specific dietary needs related to iron. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider if and when you should be screened for iron deficiency, especially if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of iron deficiency anemia.
Sources: American Dietetic Association, Mayo Clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Washington and Shady GroveAdventistHospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.