Iron is an essential mineral that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and muscles and facilitates the creation of hormones. However, iron deficiency is a common nutritional disorder, especially in India. A report published in February 2000 by the Indian Council of Medical Research states that around 87 per cent of Indian pregnant women suffer from anaemia. Another study from the National Institute of Nutrition suggests that 68 per cent of school-going children are deficient in iron. Hence, consuming iron-rich food is vital to maintain good health, optimum energy levels and general well-being of the body.
Key functions of iron in the body
Iron produces haemoglobin and myoglobin, which are instrumental in ensuring all vital organs, including the lungs, receive oxygen. According to a report published in the US-based National Library of Medicine, the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of iron for adult men is 8 mg, while it is 18 mg for adult women. This nutrient also plays a significant role during the period of pregnancy and lactation of a woman. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends pregnant women consume around 27 mg, while the RDI is 9 mg for lactating mothers. The best way to ensure optimal iron levels is to opt for whole foods full of this mineral.
Health benefits of iron
Produces blood in the body
A medical report by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Health states that 70 per cent of the body’s iron is found in the blood in the form of haemoglobin and myoglobin in the muscles. Therefore, ferritin (iron) deficiency can directly impact an individual’s energy levels.
Helps in managing anaemia
Anaemia is a condition where the quantity of the protein called haemoglobin in the red blood cells falls below the recommended level. Low haemoglobin is a direct offshoot of iron deficiency in the body. It can lead to shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches or an irregular heartbeat.
Improves athletic performance
Myoglobin transports oxygen to the muscles. An individual’s endurance, stamina and immunity are dependent on this. As per Verywell Health, it is critical for athletes, especially menstruating or pregnant women, to achieve optimum iron consumption to remain active and give their best on the field.
Top foods with rich iron content
Red meat is one of the easiest foods that aid iron absorption and meets the requirements of this mineral of the body. According to Healthline, a 100-gm serving contains 2.7 mg of iron, which is around 15 per cent of RDI. Besides heme iron, it is also rich in protein, zinc, selenium and B vitamins.
Fish and shellfish
Tuna, sardines, mackerel and shellfish are some varieties of fish that are said to have good amounts of iron. Around 85 grams of canned tuna is said to contain about 1.4 mg of iron, which comes to 8 per cent of RDI.
The leafy vegetable is a great source of this essential mineral for vegans and vegetarians. According to Medical News Today, a half-cup of boiled spinach contains 3 mg of iron, which is a total of 17 per cent of RDI. It also has high amounts of vitamin C.
In addition to being a good source of folate, magnesium and potassium, 85 grams of cooked black beans have around 1.8 mg of iron, which is 10 per cent of RDI. On the other hand, 195 grams of cooked lentils contain around 37 per cent of RDI, states Healthline.
Around 156 grams of broccoli contain approximately 1 mg of iron, which amounts to 6 per cent of RDI. Besides broccoli, other vegetables from the same family, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage, have similar nutritional benefits.
Again a popular and great option for vegans, 126 grams of tofu supplies around 4 mg, or 19 per cent of RDI. The US Department of Agriculture claims that it also contains 22 grams of protein and high values of essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium and selenium.
Delicious iron-rich recipes to try at home
Want to switch to a diet that contains foods rich in heme and non-heme iron? Try out these recipes:
Precautions to be taken before consuming iron-rich foods
In addition to vegetables, fruits and meats, one can opt for supplements to ensure an adequate iron intake in case of deficiency as well. However, be mindful of the dosage if you also include iron-rich foods in your diet, as an excess of iron can cause indigestion and stomach upsets. It could lead to the creation of free radicals, which could cause damage to vital organs.
Disclaimer: Any iron supplement should be taken only after a consultation with your doctor.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– Which food has the highest iron content?
Foods like red meat, lean meat, fish, legumes, spinach, tofu and broccoli are high in iron.
– What fruit is rich in iron?
Apricots, raisins and mulberries are some of the fruits rich in iron.
– How can I boost my iron levels quickly?
Consuming iron-rich foods along with vitamin C can increase the absorption rate of this mineral.
– Is beetroot rich in iron?
Yes, beetroot is rich in iron.