When it comes to our health, iron is pretty important in helping to support the normal healthy functioning of our bodies.
Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to our body’s cells, and without it, our cells would starve, our muscles and brain would cease to function and our immune system would no longer be strong enough to serve as our own internal home security system.
Because iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, many of us think that we must be lacking in our iron intake.
The truth of the matter, however, is that iron is found in many fortified foods including cereal and pasta, and eating a proper diet usually ensures that there is enough iron on hand for red blood cells to develop normally, laying the groundwork for carrying oxygen to the rest of the body so we have the energy we need to get through the day.
How much iron do we need?
Generally, men and non-menstruating women should take in about 10 milligrams of iron daily, menstruating or nursing women should have 15 milligrams and pregnant women should consume 30 milligrams per day so both mom and baby’s needs are met.
In most cases, those numbers are easily reached through a healthy diet, which is why Xtend-Life chooses not to include iron in any of its supplements, in order to prevent potentially dangerous iron overload.
There are times, however, when iron-deficiency does occur, although this is relatively uncommon. Iron supplements should not be needed unless you have been diagnosed by your doctor as iron deficient. Illness, a heavier-than-normal menstrual flow, chemotherapy and kidney conditions can all have a negative impact on red blood cells, leading to iron deficiency.
With fewer red blood cells on hand to deliver oxygen to the other cells in the body, we become tired, and everyday activities including exercise are more difficult, since our cells and muscles are depleted of the oxygen they need for strength and endurance. Fewer red blood cells can also compromise our immune system, putting us at risk of other health conditions. (Ref. 2)
There are also a handful of health issues including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and the aftereffects of gastric bypass surgery that can cause your body to absorb less iron than it needs. (Ref. 3)
In these rare cases, a physician might recommend a supplement. Experts suggest that adults and teens take in no more than 45 milligrams of iron per day, while children under 14 take in no more than 40 milligrams.
But for most of us, the right mix of iron-rich foods can fill the void without the risk of iron overload associated with iron supplements.
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 utilize as much as 30 percent of heme iron found in proteins, compared to 10 percent of non-heme iron found in plants.
That’s not to say that the vegetarians and vegans of the world 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 to add to your diet to keep iron levels optimal 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 and maple syrup. (Choose authentic maple syrup, however. That syrup shelf at your local supermarket can be deceiving.)
Too much of a good thing
But remember that eating too many iron-rich foods can be as detrimental to our health as taking too high dose of an iron supplement.
When we take in too much iron, our bodies can’t easily dispose of it, and it ends up being stored in both our blood cells and our organs.
High levels of iron have been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis and other health conditions, in part because excess iron tends to oxidize causing free radicals.
Free radicals then embark on a mission of destruction, contributing to wrinkles, dark spots and other signs of aging in their wake.
Excess iron can also be revealed through hair loss, impotence and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.