April 28, 2016 12:00 AM | by Aya Embabi
How to Ensure Your Diet is Iron-Clad
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. So why is iron so important in the diet and how can you be sure you're getting enough?
What are the functions of iron in the body?
Iron’s main role is to maintain normal oxygen transport and cellular respiration in the body. It does so as a component of a variety of transport proteins and enzymes that work towards this goal, including hemoglobin, myoglobin, flavoproteins, and others.
What happens if you’re deficient?
The groups at greatest risk for deficiency due to increased needs are:
- Infants and children
- Women of child-bearing age
- Pregnant women
- Gastric Bypass/Weight Loss Surgery patients (or other surgeries affecting iron absorption, which happens in the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine)
Iron deficiency is a gradual process, but if you remain deficient for 3 months, the ultimate result is iron-deficiency anemia. Clinical signs of iron deficiency include:
- Koilonychia (spoon-shaped fingernails)
- Pagophagia (craving and chewing of ice)
How much iron do you need per day?
Because women can lose iron due to menstruation, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) varies not only between men and women, but also between women of different ages. Recommended dietary allowances are set by the Nutrition Board of the Institute Medicine, and these numbers indicate the amount of a nutrient that is enough to meet the needs of 98% of healthy people. The RDA's for iron for women ranges from 8 mg/day to 18 mg/day, according to their age.
How can you make sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet?
Lean red meat and organ meats are the best food source of iron, but other food sources include:
- Oysters and clams
- Dried beans
- Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, etc.)
- Fortified cereal products
If you are iron-deficient, you should consult your physician and dietitian, but it is likely that taking an iron supplement would be appropriate to reverse the deficiency.
So what’s the bottom line?
The take-home message here is that iron is an essential nutrient that plays many key roles in the body. There are certain groups that have much higher iron needs, like infants, women of child-bearing age, and pregnant women. Since iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, it’s important to be aware of how much iron you need, and make sure your diet is meeting those needs!
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