Iron is a mineral that is important for making red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body. Our cells use oxygen to make energy from the food we eat. Iron is also needed to keep the immune system healthy and to help brain cells work normally. Getting enough iron in your diet may help you feel like you have more energy and help you resist infections.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Severe iron deficiency can lead to one type of anemia. This is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Iron deficiency can be caused by not getting enough iron in the diet, not absorbing iron properly, losing blood from injury or illness. Signs of iron deficiency include fatigue infections, muscle weakness, lack of ability to concentrate. You can ensure that you get enough iron by eating foods that are good sources of the mineral. You can also eat foods fortified or enriched with iron. Both animal and plant foods contain iron, but our bodies absorb the iron from meats better than from plants. To help increase the amount of iron that is absorbed from plant foods, eat them with a food high in vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries, and peppers, or with meat, poultry, or fish.
Everyone needs iron but some may need more than others. Pregnant women, menstruating women, infants, children, and teens need the most iron. Iron is found in many foods but not in large quantities, so it is often difficult to get adequate amounts. Good food sources of iron include liver, lean meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, peas, tofu, green leafy vegetables, raisins, and whole-wheat bread. Foods commonly fortified or enriched with iron include iron-fortified, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, iron-fortified oatmeal, enriched grits, and enriched breads.
Not everyone needs an iron supplement. Your doctor may recommend a supplement with iron when diet alone cannot provide enough iron to maintain a healthy level. You should only take an iron supplement if your doctor recommends it. It is unlikely that you will get too much iron from foods. However, it is possible to get too much from supplements. Be sure to keep supplements out of the reach of children because an overdose of iron can be fatal.
Try this quick-n-easy recipe that is a good source of iron:
Beef Sloppy Joes
2-pound, extra-lean ground lean beef
1 onion, chopped
1 cup ketchup
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
8 whole-wheat buns
1. Brown meat and onion in a large skillet.
2. Drain fat and add remaining ingredients.
3. Simmer for about one hour.
4. Serve on open hamburger buns.
Makes eight servings. Each serving has 340 calories, 26 grams (g) carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 2 g fiber and 20 percent of the daily value for iron.
This article is written by Markaye Russell, Area Nutrition Agent, Ouachita/Union Parishes. This article is reference by LSU AgCenter, University of Florida Extension Service, North Dakota State Extension Service, and University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.