Author: Animal Save Movement
Iron is an essential mineral found in both plant foods and animals and it plays a vital role in our blood system, particularly the function of our hemoglobin to carry oxygen to our cells. Every cell in our body requires oxygen which makes iron an extremely important mineral. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies with symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, difficulty thinking and concentrating, feeling weak and easily tired, cold hands and feet, headache, lightheadedness, brittle nails, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a pale complexion. Iron is also critical for children and toddlers to thrive. However, iron is also a pro-oxidant which means too much of it can lead to oxidative stress and cell damage.
|Age||Recommended Daily Intake|
|7-12 months||11 mg|
|Toddlers 1-3 years old||7mg|
|Children 4-8 years old||10mg|
|Children 9-13 years||8mg|
Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron
Heme iron is found only in blood and muscle tissue from animal flesh and is more readily absorbed in the body. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods like grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and our body naturally has the ability to regulate iron absorption of non-heme iron which prevents an overload.
Improving Iron Absorption
The best way to improve iron absorption is to consume iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods such as citrus foods, sweet peppers, papaya, broccoli, and other fruits and vegetables. Lysine which is found in legumes, beans and quinoa aids in the absorption of iron. Beta carotene found rich in orange fruits and vegetables also increases iron absorption.
Avoid having too many calcium rich foods as it blunts the absorption of iron as well as tea and coffee which contain tannins which reduce absorption.
Excessive Iron Can Be Harmful
Increased intake of heme iron is associated with Type 2 Diabetes, increased risk of colon cancer, with no association with non-heme iron. A 12-year prospective study from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) II found high iron intake led to an increased mortality risk when combined with elevated transferrin saturation. Excessive heme iron is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, cancer and there are mixed studies in regards to cardiovascular disease.
Iron Content in Foods
|Blackstrap molasses||2 Tbsp||7.2|
|White beans, cooked||1 cup||7.0|
|Lentils, cooked||1 cup||6.6|
|Spinach, cooked||1 cup||6.4|
|Kidney beans, cooked||1 cup||5.2|
|Chickpeas, cooked||1 cup||4.7|
|Lima beans, cooked||1 cup||4.5|
|Black-eyed peas, cooked||1 cup||4.3|
|Beyond Meat meatless patty||1 patty||4.0|
|Swiss chard, cooked||1 cup||4.0|
|Bagel, enriched||1 medium||3.8|
|Black beans, cooked||1 cup||3.6|
|Pinto beans, cooked||1 cup||3.6|
|Veggie hot dog, iron-fortified||1 hot dog||3.6|
|Prune juice||8 ounces||3.0
|Quinoa, cooked||1 cup||2.8|
|Beet greens, cooked||1 cup||2.7|
|Collard greens, cooked||1 cup||2.5|
|Peas, cooked||1 cup||2.5|
|Sweet Potatoes, mashed||1 cup||2.4|
|Brussels sprouts, cooked||1 cup||1.9|
|Potato with skin||1 large||1.9|
|Bok choy, cooked||1 cup||1.8|
|Bulgur, cooked||1 cup||1.7|
|Apricots, dried||15 halves||1.4|
|Beets, steamed||1 cup||1.4|
|Soy yogurt||6 ounces||1.4|
|Sesame seeds||2 Tbsp||1.2|
|Sunflower seeds||1/4 cup||1.2|
|Turnip greens, cooked||1 cup||1.2|
|Millet, cooked||1 cup||1.1|
|Broccoli, cooked||1 cup||1.0|
|Kale, cooked||1 cup||1.0|
|Tomato juice||8 ounces||1.0|
|Pumpkin seeds||2 tbsp||0.9|
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- Kids Health from Nemours. Iron.
- Liu JL, Fan YG, Yang ZS, Wang ZY, Guo C. Iron and Alzheimer's Disease: From Pathogenesis to Therapeutic Implications. Front Neurosci. 2018;12:632. Published 2018 Sep 10. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00632
- Logroscino G, Gao X, Chen H, Wing A, Ascherio A. Dietary iron intake and risk of Parkinson's disease. Am J Epidemiol. 2008;168(12):1381–1388. doi:10.1093/aje/kwn273
- Mainous AG 3rd, Wells B, Carek PJ, Gill JM, Geesey ME. The mortality risk of elevated serum transferrin saturation and consumption of dietary iron. Ann Fam Med. 2004 Mar-Apr;2(2):139-44.
- Stanford Children’s Health. Babies and Toddlers Need Iron to Thrive.