Author: Frank W. Jackson, M.D.
Iron is a mineral essential for life. Found in red blood cells, iron’s primary role is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without oxygen, the body’s cells cannot function normally.
If the body’s iron stores become too low, an iron-deficiency anemia can occur. This is characterized by weakness, lethargy, muscle fatigue, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, a person’s skin may become pale due to a lack of red blood cells in the body.
In adults, iron deficiency is most commonly caused by chronic blood loss, such as with heavy menstruation or intestinal bleeding from peptic ulcers, cancer, or hemorrhoids. In children, iron deficiency is usually the result of an inadequate iron intake.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron in healthy adults is 10 milligrams per day for men and 15 milligrams per day for premenopausal women. Premenopausal women’s needs are higher than men’s needs because women lose iron during menstruation.
It is generally easier for men to get enough iron than it is for women. Because they are usually bigger, men have higher calorie needs and will most likely eat enough food to meet their iron requirements. Women, on the other hand, tend to eat less. This makes it more difficult for them to meet their iron needs. It is, therefore, particularly important for premenopausal women to eat foods high in iron.
Pregnant women will need as much as 30 milligrams of iron per day. The main reason is because the unborn baby needs iron for development. As a result, it will draw from the mother’s iron stores. This can quickly deplete a woman of iron if she is not eating enough iron rich foods.
The following table lists foods high in iron. In general, meat, fish, and poultry are excellent sources. Other sources of iron include beans, dried fruits, whole grains, fortified cereals, and enriched breads.
There are some instances in which a high iron diet can be harmful. For example, those suffering from hemochromatosis need to avoid iron rich foods. Hemochromatosis is a common hereditary disorder where the body loses its ability to regulate the amount of iron that is absorbed and stored. Without a regulatory process, dangerously large amounts of iron can build up. This can lead to severe damage to the liver, heart, and pancreas.
Chronic liver disease, from many causes, can result in excessive amounts gf iron being stored in the liver. In rome instances, this actually aggravates the damage to the liver. In the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, for example, it is now known that reducing iron ctores by removal of blood actually improves treatment.
|Foods That Contain Iron|
|Bran flakes cereal||1 cup||24.0|
|Product 19 cereal||1 cup||24.0|
|Clams, steamed||3 oz||23.8|
|Total cereal||1 cup||18.0|
|Life cereal||1 cup||12.2|
|Raisin bran cereal||1 cup||9.3|
|Beef liver, braised||3 oz||5.8|
|Kix cereal||1 cup||5.4|
|Cheerios cereal||1 cup||3.6|
|Prune juice||1 cup||3.0|
|Potato, baked with skin||1 med||2.8|
|Sirloin steak, cooked||3 oz||2.8|
|Shrimp, cooked||3 oz||2.6|
|Navy beans, cooked||1/2 cup||2.3|
|Lean ground beef, broiled||3 oz||2.1|
|Swiss chard, cooked||1/2 cup||2.0|
|Rice krispies cereal||1 cup||1.8|
|Kidney beans||1/2 cup||1.6|
|Oatmeal, cooked||1/2 cup||1.6|
|Spinach, raw||1 cup||1.5|
|Tuna, canned in water||3 oz||1.3|
|Green peas, conked||1/2 cup||1.2|
|Halibut, cooked||3 oz||0.9|
|Whole-wheat bread||1 slice||0.9|
|Apricot halves, dried||5||0.8|
|Broccoli, cooked||1/2 cup||0.6|
|Egg, boiled||1 large||0.6|
© Frank W. Jackson, M.D.