Why Dietary Iron Matters, and Where to Get It From
Let’s say you’re a vegetarian. Suppose you remember hearing a lot of people you used to talk to (meat eaters) warning you about the importance of dietary iron, and the lack of it you could likely be expecting once you trim the meat out of your diet. Were they correct? Was iron a vital nutrient that you’d soon be missing after leaving meat behind? And if so, then where are you supposed to get it now?
Let’s take a look at all of these things in this article. Why is iron an important dietary mineral, and how can you make sure that you get it, regardless of whether or not you eat meat? What kinds of foods, including fruits and veggies, contain iron? Are iron supplements worth it? If so, what are the best kinds to take? Where else can I learn about why iron is so important to my daily diet?
Why Your Body Needs Iron and What Iron Actually Does
Iron is a key component needed to maintain the body’s health, as in fact, every single cell in your body contains iron. It contributes to the oxygenation of your body’s cells and tissues (iron is in red blood cells, which aid in moving oxygenated blood around the body while forcing carbon dioxide out), and enhances the function of your immune system. It is also a metal, just like you thought it was.
Part of bodily enzymes and proteins (hemo- and myo-globin), iron is an essential part of your muscles, and it also helps to keep cell growth regulated. It is not something the body naturally produces, so iron supplementation is required. Most of the iron you need comes from the foods you eat (meat and non-meat), although liquid iron supplements are available as well. Excess iron in the body can be stored for use at a later time.
There are two forms of iron, one of which is heme iron. This tends to be located in animal foods like red meat or fish. The other kind of iron is called nonheme, and can be found in many plants, including beans, bok choy, or broccoli. Iron in the body helps contribute to the reduction of stress, too. According to sources around the web, “Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the US and around the world. Iron deficiency causes anemia which reduces the oxygen carried to tissue. Donating blood regularly, excessive menstrual bleeding, some medications that interfere with the absorption of iron (such as antacids), and pregnancy and lactation can all contribute to iron deficiency.”
The Functions of Iron in the Body
Iron contributes an essential part of the process for the following bodily functions:
- the formation of hemoglobin and some bodily enzymes
- moving oxygen through the body (via the blood)
- healthy liver function
- regulation of cell growth
- free radical protection
- immune system activity
- tons of proteins (and also enzymes) instrumental to the maintenance of bodily health
Where to Get Dietary Iron if You Don’t Eat Meat
According to The Vegetarian Spotlight, the following non-meat foods contain iron (listed along side the food source):
– ½ cup cooked soybeans: 4.4 mg
– ½ cup of raisins 1.6 mg
– ¼ cup of sunflower seeds 1.2 mg
– ¼ cup of almonds 1.5 mg
– ¼ cup of cashews 2.1 mg
– ½ cup cooked lentils 3.3 mg
– ½ cup of fresh cooked spinach 3.2 mg
– ½ cup of cooked chickpeas 2.4 mg
– ¾ cup of prune juice 2.3 mg
– ½ cup cooked lima beans 2.2 mg
– 1 ounce roasted pumpkin seeds: 4.2 mg
– 4 oz of tofu 6.0 mg
– 1 cup of Tempeh 4.8 mg
– 1 cup of cooked black beans 3.6 mg
– 1 cup of cooked kidney beans 3.0 mg
– 1 large potato 3.2 mg
– 1 veggie hotdog 2.7 mg
– 1 veggie burger patty 1.4 mg
– 1 cup of cooked brussel sprouts 1.9 mg
– 1 cup of cooked broccoli 1.1 mg
Other Sources Around the Web on Dietary Iron for Health
The Importance of Dietary Iron at Parenting Weekly.
Importance of Iron in Your Diet at LiveStrong.
The Role of Iron in Your Diet at LiveStrong.
Facts About Dietary Iron at Healthy Vitamin Choice.
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron, from the Office of Dietary Supplements / NIH.
Importance of Iron in Diet from Life Mojo.
Iron: An Important Mineral in Your Diet from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Getting Iron on the Vegan Diet, from the Vegetarian Resource Group.
[Photo Via: providentorganicfarm.com]