Iron is an essential mineral for the human body. It is found in all of our cells and has many functions.
How Iron Functions in the Body
- Iron, as part of the protein hemoglobin, transports oxygen from our lungs to all of the tissues in the body.
- Iron helps our muscles store and use oxygen.
- Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells.
- Iron is involved in the conversion of blood sugar to energy.
- Iron is required for the production of enzymes.
A Lack of Iron
A lack of iron affects many parts of our bodies. It is the leading cause of anemia in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insufficient iron can be caused by an increased need for iron, or a decreased absorption or intake of iron. Decreased absorption can be the result of gastrointestinal problems like malabsorption issues, low stomach acid levels or consuming excessive amounts of antacids.
Signs of a lack of iron include: extreme fatigue, pale skin, weakness, shortness of breath, chest pain, frequent infections, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, cold hands and feet, brittle nails and fast heartbeat. You can read more about anemia here. Iron and healthy blood go hand in hand. This article on the best foods for building blood may help with other nutrients that contribute to healthy blood.
Anemia is a blood condition that occurs when blood lacks a healthy level of red blood cells, or when hemoglobin is too low or abnormal. In either case, tissues do not get enough oxygen. While there are many types of anemia, anemia due to lack of iron is the most common. It is prevalent in premenopausal women, due to blood loss from menstruation, and pregnant women, because of increased blood supply demands.
We need to consume a healthy amount of iron each day because our bodies can’t produce it. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for iron are as follows.
Females ages 14-18: 15 mg
Women ages 19-50: 18 mg
Women ages 51-70: 8 mg
Pregnant women: 27 mg
Males ages 14-18: 11 mg
Men ages 19-70: 8 mg
Sources of Iron
Most of us associate iron with meat and seafood items like canned clams, cooked oysters, organ meats, beef, sardines, roasted duck, lamb and shrimp. But there are also a number of plant foods that contain a good amount of iron (as you can see above), including spinach, Swiss chard, parsley, collard greens, asparagus, romaine lettuce and more. These are often highlighted in sources that identify “healthy” high-iron foods because they often have fewer calories than animal foods. Whole grains and several spices are also good sources of iron.
Consuming vitamin C with these foods can optimize iron absorption.
If you are not able to get adequate amounts of iron from your diet, you may want to consider supplementation. Natural Healthy Concepts carries a wide range of iron supplements, including this best seller – Proferrin ES from Colorado Biolabs. This supplement contains heme iron, which has a higher absorption rate over non-heme iron.
Please note that overconsumption of iron can also cause issues. That’s why it is so important to get informed about your nutritional needs and to make healthy choices that balance your levels. Iron overload increases the risk for liver disease, heart attack, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism and more.
Check out this video from HealthiNation called “The Essentials of Iron” for more information about iron.
If you could use more iron in your diet, I hope these recipes give you some inspiration!
Slow-Cooker Orange & Sugar Snap Pea Beef
Try this Asian-inspired, high-iron dish from The Fit Fork. It’s a crockpot recipe that is easy both to make and to clean up. Perfect for a dinner for two, or even a busy work day.
Ingredients like beef, chili pepper and peas are all good sources of iron and combine to make a very tasty meal! The combination of beef (iron) and peas (vitamin C) makes for a super absorbing iron meal.
As Jennifer describes, “It’s a little sweet, a little spicy and very healthy ….”
Cinnamon Maple Pumpkin Seeds
You saw pumpkin seeds on the high-iron foods list, right? Well, Jessica with Swanky Recipes uses just the right mix of spices, vanilla and pure maple syrup to make these pumpkin seeds rock!
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of fiber and magnesium, as well as iron.
It’s easy to get these iron-rich seeds in your diet, too. Besides snacking on a handful, you can sprinkle some on your salad, blend them into your muffin recipe and add them in a trail mix. If you’ve never roasted your own, you’re in for a fun-filled afternoon with the kids too.
Everyday Health shares a super-simple 15-minute recipe for Oysters Rockefeller on their website.
Treasures from the sea like mollusks, clams, oysters, mussels and squid are packed full of iron, along with zinc and vitamin B12.
If you’re not a fan, common fin fish like salmon, tuna and haddock are also good iron sources.
Iron-Rich Chocolate Chia Pudding
Get a burst of iron from raw cacao powder and chia seeds with this yummy treat, as shared on the Green Yatra blog.
This pudding gets its sweetness from dates and coconut milk. Chia seeds and flax seeds provide fiber, magnesium and omega-3 plus add to the creamy texture.
They developed this as a great post-workout recipe. Great idea, right? For some extra protein after your workout, stir in a little plain protein powder or nuts!
Smoky Black Bean Tostadas
Not all Mexican food has to be unhealthy, as Alex from Delish Knowledge shows us. This vegetarian protein-rich black bean and spinach filling is topped with a smoky paprika sauce (no need for sour cream) and loaded on a faux-fried tortilla. This meal is easy, fun and delicious, and a natural for those who love sauce on their food!
Gluten-free ingredients include black beans (of course), spinach leaves, yummy roasted red peppers, cilantro, garlic and lime. Ideal for vegans needing to increase their iron!
What’s so important about gluten-free? Find out in this article – What Does Gluten-Free Actually Mean Anyway? Did the fact that this recipe is vegan get your interest? Checkout out an entire Recipe Round-up dedicated to meatless recipes.
Salmon Salad Sandwich
And, LifeScript.com gives us an iron-rich sandwich recipe that works for lunch or dinner. As noted above, seafood can be a great source of iron, and a delicious one at that. They suggest that you make a double batch for dinner so you will have a great lunch the next day!
I am not a big sandwich person, but I would be willing to bet you could take this recipe and add some breadcrumbs, maybe cut down on the cream cheese and make it into a patty to saute on the stovetop. Some parsley and or dill might be a nice addition too.
Give it a go!
Share Your Thoughts
Do you struggle getting enough iron in your diet? What iron therapy do you find helpful?
Leave a comment below to help others!
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