When it comes to our health, iron is a very important element. It plays a major role in making red blood cells, which are tasked with carrying oxygen throughout our body, and feeding our cells to give us the energy we need to power through our day.
Since two-thirds of our body’s iron is found in the hemoglobin in those red blood cells, it’s important that our body has enough iron to function properly.
Those who don’t have enough iron often develop anemia, a condition marked by a low level of red blood cells.
Low levels of red blood cells limit the oxygen our cells receive, leading to fatigue and a compromised immune system. It also means that we’re less able to exercise without becoming exhausted, since our cells and muscles – which are provided with oxygen through the iron-rich protein myoglobin - will quickly become depleted of oxygen and the body will have less ability to replenish it.
Women are at an added risk of developing anemia, especially those who have heavy periods lasting longer than five days or while pregnant.
Also a risk factor, anyone on chemotherapy – which not only kills cancer cells, but also some healthy cells including red blood cells – and those who suffer from kidney disease, which triggers a hormonal response that may limit the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
While supplements may sometimes be necessary, foods can also provide the iron we need.
Iron-rich food options
There’s a reason why a meal of liver and onions is one of the top old-school suggestions for boosting low iron levels.
Food offers two different kinds if iron – heme iron, the kind found in meat, poultry and fish, and non-heme iron, which is found primarily in plant foods but also in some meats.
Heme iron from meat is the form that is more readily absorbed by your body. Experts say that we are able to take in as much as 30 percent of heme iron, compared to 10 percent of non-heme iron.
That’s not to say that vegans are destined to be low in iron. They just have to be more aware of the foods they’re eating for optimum health.
Some iron-rich food options include:
- Meats, fish and poultry including beef, turkey, lamb, liver, chicken, eggs, shrimp, tuna and scallops;
- Veggies including spinach, sweet potatoes, tomato paste, peas, broccoli, green beans, beet and dandelion greens, kale, collards and chard;
- Fortified foods including breads, cereals and pasta;
- Fruits including watermelon, strawberries, dates, figs, prunes, raisins, dried apricots and dried peaches;
- Legumes (beans, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, soybeans, etc.), nuts and related products such as tofu; and
- Condiments including black-strap molasses, maple syrup
If you supplement
There are times when iron supplementation is necessary, but experts don't recommend taking this on a long-term basis. For that reason, none of our Xtend-Life products contain iron. (Our Kiwi-Klenz, however, may support your body better absorbing the iron you do take in through food.)
For those with anemia, however, in the short term, an iron supplement may be advisable to give your iron level a boost.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has some suggestions about iron supplementation for infants which you may wish to review. It is better though to make an effort to ensure that your infant is getting the iron needed through vegetables.
Too much of a good thing
While the amount of iron we absorb is heavily influenced by how much iron our body is already storing, it is possible to take in too much iron, which can potentially contribute to hair loss, joint problems and impotence while increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, liver cancer and arthritis.
Some experts estimate that as many as 10 percent of the population in developed countries has iron overload, thanks to fortified foods such as cereals and pastas. In fact, iron is a pro-oxidant. It can literally ‘rust inside your body’ if you have too much of it. This in turn can lead to a host of other health issues.
So in closing, should we use iron supplements? The answer is NO, unless blood tests and your doctor have established a clear deficiency and even then levels should be monitored until they are restored and supplementation discontinued.
- American Red Cross – Iron Rich Foods http://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/health-and-wellness/iron-rich-foods
- Whfoods.com - Foods rich in iron http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=70