Foods richest in iron

Foods richest in iron

Iron is one of the mineral salts most present in our body and is defined as essential, since its possible deficiency could cause damage to the health of the person.

Iron is involved at various levels in human metabolism and one of its most important tasks is linked to the formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin: it is in fact the component that causes oxygen to bind to proteins, so that can be transported by the lungs around the various parts of the body and into the muscle fibers.

The iron contained in food is not all the same, there are two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron.

heme iron derives from hemoglobin and is found mainly in foods of animal origin such as red meat, fish and poultry.

Most of the non-heme or inorganic iron instead comes from plant sources , such as green leafy vegetables and legumes.

The difference between the two types of iron lies in the use that our body makes of it, which in fact absorbs two to three times more iron from animal sources than from plants .

It should also be taken into consideration that non-heme iron is contained in much greater quantities than heme in vegetable sources. So vegetables contain more but we assimilate it less , while iron in animal foods is more effective for us but there is less.

In order to get enough iron from our diet, we must therefore balance the consumption of both food categories.

Obtain heme iron from:

  • red meat;
  • pig;
  • poultry;
  • fish, especially blue fish
  • eggs;

Obtain non-heme iron from:

  • legumes (lentils, beans ..);
  • soy derivatives (tofu, tempeh ..);
  • dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale ..);
  • seeds and oily dried fruit (walnuts, cashews ..);
  • dried fruit (raisins, apricots ..);
  • whole grains or pseudo-cereals (oats, quinoa, amaranth ..).

If the introduction of iron in the diet is not sufficient to cover the daily requirement, you can also use fortified foods, such as some types of breakfast cereals or bread.

In case you have trouble getting enough iron from food sources , you may need an iron supplement, but this can only be determined by your doctor: in fact even an excess of iron in the body can cause ailments, such as stomach pain, intestinal problems or nausea.

The recommended daily iron requirement for adults in the 30-59 age group according to the Italian LARN is 10 g / day for men and 18 g / day for women.

Needs may vary with different age groups (childhood, old age ..) or in particular physiological situations (pregnancy, breastfeeding ..).

It is very common, however, that in the general population these needs are not met and that an iron deficiency occurs. This may be due to a general dietary imbalance (i.e. the way iron cannot be absorbed).

When the body does not have enough iron, the formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin is impaired and it is possible that tissues and muscles do not get enough oxygen and are unable to work effectively.

Less oxygen in tissues and muscles means less energy for you and more work for your heart, but the complex machine that is your organism will not give up easily: it will try to pump more blood to get more oxygen, raising your heart rate and respiratory rate, with the consequence that you will tire more easily.

The hemoglobin present in red blood cells is also responsible for the red color of the blood and having less of it results in a paler, duller tissue color .

Some people will get cold more easily in general or in particular in their hands and feet because less oxygen reaches the more distant parts of the body.

A person with iron deficiency will therefore be more tired, fatigued , irritable and pale … but this seems to be the description of many people we see on the street every day, stressed by work and daily life !

This deficit affects health and quality of life, but precisely because its symptoms are easily confused with common situations, it is not always identified immediately, indeed it often happens that it is only thanks to blood tests.

Also based on other blood parameters and an accurate medical history, it could also be possible that a diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia is made, the most common symptoms of which are:

  • headache (headache) and frequent and prolonged migraines;
  • pale skin and mucous membranes;
  • fatigue and exhaustion (asthenia) even at rest;
  • breathing difficulties even in the absence of physical exercise (dyspnea),

exactly like in a common lack of iron, which is why a medical examination is essential if you are suspicious.

There are also some disorders of anemia that vary according to severity and are more recognizable but less common, such as hair loss, inflammation and swelling of the tongue, restless legs syndrome, dryness and brittleness of the skin, nails and hair, tachycardia, lack of concentration, dizziness, spoon nails.

What can induce an iron deficiency

The causes of an iron deficiency can be divided into 3 types.

  • Inadequate intake : this happens when you have a diet that does not provide you with enough iron from the foods you eat. As already mentioned, in some cases the normal need for iron can increase: it happens for example during pregnancy or the childhood period.But even if you don’t need more iron, for example, when you decide to adopt a restrictive diet that will cause you to eliminate a lot of foods, you could run into an iron deficiency.
  • Absorption : it can occur if there are gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease or colitis, or in case of celiac disease, gastritis or reflux and in situations that include frequent vomiting or diarrhea, including eating disorders.The intake of particular drugs can also cause malabsorption, such as proton pump inhibitors or cancer therapies.
  • Loss of mineral : when you eat enough foods rich in iron and do not have problems with absorption, the cause of the deficiency can be found in its loss, as occurs in situations of bleeding, including heavy menstruation or internal intestinal wounds.

Unless you have some health problem that only a doctor can assess, a diet-related iron deficiency can easily be corrected.

What dietary measures to take in case of iron deficiency?

Some substances in foods can help your body absorb iron better from foods that are rich in it, while others can hinder and inhibit it, especially if you consume it in large quantities.

The offending substances are tannins present in tea and coffee, calcium in dairy products and phytates from whole grains and legumes.

But that doesn’t mean we have to eliminate them from our diet!

The Istituto Superiore di Sanità provides us with some important information and strategies.

The tannins present in tea and coffee together with iron form insoluble compounds that prevent its assimilation : to prevent this from happening try to consume coffee between meals with foods rich in iron and decrease the tea infusion time, perhaps by adding lemon juice .

In fact, vitamin C improves the absorption of iron and consuming meals with many foods rich in this vitamin such as citrus fruits and broccoli will help you.

Do you remember Popeye? Apparently he did not tell us right: the same mechanism that occurs between iron and tannins occurs in the case of calcium in dairy products.

If you consume, like the famous cartoon character, large quantities of milk (a lot of calcium) with spinach, which has a good iron content, it is unlikely that you will be able to use it in full: therefore consumption of dairy products during meals.

Even the presence of phytates in legumes and whole grains can further hinder the absorption of iron, but it will be sufficient to cook them after having left them in the water for several hours.

In general, it is not very easy to satisfy all your nutritional needs with the diet, on the one hand due to insufficient assimilations due to wrong assimilation or incorrect information; on the other hand because the lifestyle leads us either to binge on junk food, not very nutritious and unbalanced, or to eat too little and quickly, not contemplating a healthy balance between macronutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Iron is essential within a empowering framework , that is, a nutrition that gives energy and helps you lead a life full of goals and results.

Integration is necessary when there are deficiencies. You can find out more about the world of food supplementation by downloading the ever-updated Mini Guide.

Foods high in iron. liver, broccoli, persimmon, apples, nuts, legumes spinach pomegranate Top view flat lay

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