Iron is an essential mineral for the human body as it performs a wide range of vital functions. It aids in the transportation of oxygen throughout the body and helps generate energy. In this guide, we will discuss the various benefits of iron, its recommended daily intake, and key iron-rich foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet. By the end of this article, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of this essential mineral and how to maintain optimal iron levels for a healthy body. So, let’s dive in!
What is the function of iron?
Iron (Fe), an indispensable mineral for the human body, performs crucial functions vital to our well-being. Among its various roles, iron plays a pivotal part in the transportation of oxygen throughout our entire system and the generation of energy. Remarkably, two essential proteins, haemoglobin and myoglobin, are created using iron. Haemoglobin, present in red blood cells, facilitates the delivery of oxygen from the lungs to every part of the body, while myoglobin supplies oxygen to our hardworking muscles.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
- Lacking in energy
- Tend to be more susceptible to infections
- Iron-deficiency anaemia: symptoms such as heart palpitations, brittle nails, thinning hair, itchy skin (pruritus) and mouth sores or ulcers can develop
Which foods are good sources of iron?
The iron in animal-based sources is often referred to as ‘haem iron’, whilst the iron in plant-based sources is often referred to as ‘non-haem iron’.
- Animal-based sources, such as red meat and beef/chicken liver, are rich sources of iron and are most easily absorbed, and to a lesser extent, eggs, fish and poultry.
- Plant-based iron sources include pulses and legumes (such as beans, peas, and lentils), dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, cabbage, and broccoli), tofu, nuts and seeds, beets, oatmeal, quinoa, tahini and more. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with iron.
- ‘Haem iron’ can increase the absorption of ‘non-haem iron’. Therefore, to improve the iron status, it can be beneficial to eat, for example, red meat (beef, lamb) alongside green leafy vegetables.
- Plant-based foods such as beans, grains and vegetables also contain iron. Although not as easily absorbed as animal-based sources.
Ways to Enhance Iron Absorption and Ensure an Iron-Rich Diet with Iron-Rich Foods
- Food preparation techniques like cooking in cast iron cookware, soaking nuts and seeds, and using sprouted seeds and grains can enhance iron absorption.
- Consuming fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C with meals can increase iron absorption.
- Include green leafy vegetables in main meals to boost iron intake.
- Snack on fruits and nuts between meals to increase iron consumption.
- Avoid combining dairy with iron-rich meals, as calcium inhibits iron absorption.
- Foods high in phytates, such as soybeans, black beans, lentils, mung beans, split beans, unrefined rice, and grains, can inhibit iron absorption. Soaking legumes and grains before cooking can reduce phytate content.
- Opt for sourdough whole-grain bread instead of regular yeast bread to enhance iron absorption.
Examples of Meals with Iron-Rich Foods
- Wholemeal toast with Tahini ( in a tbsp, you have approximately 1.3 mg iron) with a piece of fruit/ veg. Tahini is a source of calcium, iron, dietary fibre and healthy fats.
- Granola made from oats with Natural plant-based yoghurt.
- Porridge with fruits, seeds and nuts.
- Whole grain cereals fortified with iron.
- Miso soup with Tofu (5.4mg Iron per 100g).
- Wholemeal sandwich with chicken liver pâté and salad.
- Chickpeas and spinach soup.
- Omelette with spinach.
- Lentil salad with quinoa.
- Salad sprinkled with seeds with a portion of meat, fish or pulses and potatoes.
- Meat, fish, poultry or pulses served with vegetables and sweet potatoes.
- Baked potato (with skin) with baked beans and vegetables.
- Curry with lentils and turmeric.
- Chicken liver pate with sourdough rye bread and roasted vegetables.
Fruit (fresh or dried), a handful of nuts.
Iron Meal Plans to Boost Your Iron Intake
In conclusion, iron is a crucial mineral that should be included in our daily diet. If you find it challenging to plan and prepare meals that are rich in iron, we recommend checking out our pre-built iron meal plans that come with recipe books. These meal plans are designed by naturopaths to boost your daily iron intake. With our pre-built meal plans, you can easily incorporate a variety of iron-rich foods into your diet without the hassle of planning and preparing meals yourself.
- Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R., & Kelishadi, R. (2014). Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 19(2), 164–174.
- “Iron – Health Professional Fact Sheet.” 28 Feb. 2020, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/.
- Moustarah F, Mohiuddin SS. Dietary Iron. [Updated 2020 Apr 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK540969/
- Iron Food Fact Sheet, British Dietetic Association www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts