Iron: How Much You Need and How to Get It

Iron is a mineral that the body needs for sustained good health, but more people are deficient in iron than in any other nutrient. This is because most of us will only absorb about 10% of our iron intake. This is why it's an essential to ensure we're getting a healthy dose of iron, either in our daily diet or from supplements.

Why You Need Iron

You'll find iron in every cell of the body. It's necessary for getting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body that needs it. With iron, our muscles can store oxygen and use it when needed. You'll find iron in the enzymes that help the body perform many essential functions, including food digestion.

The technical term for iron deficiency is anemia. Sometimes this can be because the overall iron intake is low; other times it can be because the body is not absorbing enough iron.

Lack of iron can lead to serious health problems. During pregnancy, if a fetus doesn't get enough iron, it can result in small or premature babies. In infancy, not enough iron can result in delayed motor functions and cognitive development. As we grow to be teens and adults, iron-poor blood can cause memory problems, affect mental functions, and result in physical fatigue.

Foods Rich in Iron

The most iron-rich foods you can find are meats. Clams have a whopping 23 mg of iron per 3 oz of meat and are by far the biggest source of iron available. Organs such as liver and giblets can contain up to 10 mg. of iron in a 3 oz serving. Beef, shrimp, lamb, and duck all will provide with over 2 mg of iron per 3 oz serving.

Vegetables and legumes are also sources of iron, however, the body doesn't absorb iron from plant foods as readily as it absorbs iron from meats. Some of the more iron-rich plant foods include soybeans, lentils, navy beans, kidney beans, squash, and spinach, which will all give 3 to 5 mg. of iron per serving.

A 1 oz serving of fortified breakfast cereal can contain from 2 to 20 mg of iron, depending on your brand. Check the label.

In order to improve the body’s ability to absorb iron from plant-based sources, make sure that you’re also getting enough vitamin C.

Iron Needs

Men generally need at least 8 mgs of iron per day (up to 11 in adolescence). Women need at least 8 mgs; menstruating women may need up to 18 mgs per day. Only a blood test can tell your doctor if your body is absorbing enough iron. If not, supplements can help provide you with your nutritional needs.

Photo: Pexels

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