Iron is an important nutrient contained in many foods

You need to include iron in your diet, but not too much.

Iron is an important mineral for the transport of oxygen and cell growth. Most people easily satisfy their iron requirement from a well-balanced diet, but sometimes, deficiencies can occur. Too much iron can result in toxicity, too little can result in fatigue and compromised immune function. Iron sources include meat and other animal sources of foods, grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Foods that are especially high in iron include chicken and beef liver, oysters, lentils and kidney beans, while other meats like poultry and beef are still good sources, but have less iron. Egg yolks and salmon are also good sources, along with navy, pinto and black beans, spinach and whole grains.

Our iron sources can be either heme-iron or non-heme iron. The heme-iron, which is from animal sources, is absorbed more readily than the non-heme iron that comes from plant foods. Although non-meat sources of iron can provide much of the iron we need, the iron is not as easily used as iron in meats. Nutrition research recommends eating some heme iron or meat sources, along with non-heme foods (plant food sources) to increase the iron absorption. For example, if you make a turkey or beef soup with just three ounces of meat, two cups of spinach and a cup of lentils, the turkey or beef will increase the iron availability of the spinach and lentils. That soup would provide about 29 percent of the recommended iron for four people.

Some foods like ready-to-eat cereals and bread are fortified with iron. Plant sources of iron are used to fortify foods, so eating a small amount of meat with that food would maximize the iron availability. Adequate amounts of Vitamin C also help iron to be absorbed and used. To find the amount of iron in foods you buy, look at the nutrition facts label. Iron is listed near the bottom of the label, along with other minerals and vitamins. Check the “% daily value” and compare that to the amount in a serving size. Generally, if a food contains at least 10 percent of a nutrient, it is a good source of that nutrient. The serving size can tell you how much of the food you need to eat to get the stated amount of each nutrient. In many cases we eat more than a stated serving size and if that is the case, you can increase the “% daily value” of nutrients.

Few adults should consider taking iron supplements. Michigan State University Extension advises that you consult your physician and have a prescription for iron supplements. Too much iron intake can result in symptoms that include nausea, dizziness, weight loss, headaches and shortness of breath. Iron supplements should be especially avoided for children.

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