Remember the cartoon character Popeye and the strength he gained by eating spinach (an iron rich leafy green)? It was meant to be funny, but it really is pretty close to the truth! Recently someone asked me about the food sources for iron, so I’ve been doing some research. Iron is truly an amazing mineral that gives us strength and energy literally throughout our whole body!
What exactly does iron do for us? Iron is underestimated but a very important mineral – one that we virtually can’t live without.
- Iron’s primary function is the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all of our cells and organs – throughout our entire body. Without oxygen, our cells and organs would not be able to function. So in this respect, the effects of iron reach throughout our entire body!
- Iron is an important component in the body’s enzyme production.
- Iron is an integral part of the body’s proteins and building of new cells.
- Iron is necessary for healthy muscle function, muscle tone and elasticity.
- Iron is required for our metabolism. Lack of iron can cause the body’s metabolism to slow, and possibly even shut down altogether.
- Iron is essential for healthy brain function because the brain requires oxygen, and iron is needed by the red blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain. Iron is also a factor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
- Iron helps regulate body temperature, which is important for optimal enzyme and metabolic processes.
- Iron is a critical component of the healing process. Repair of our cells and tissues requires oxygen, which is provided by the red blood cells. The production of red blood cells depends on iron.
- Iron helps strengthen our immune system.
- Iron is necessary for overall energy.
What foods contain iron? There are two forms of iron, found in different groups of food. Additionally, some processed foods such as grain products, are fortified with iron.
- Non-heme iron is from plant sources (fruits and vegetables). It is more difficult for our body to absorb non-heme iron.
- Heme iron is from animal and seafood sources. This form of iron is easier for our body to absorb.
Fruits and vegetables sources of iron: (non-heme iron)
- Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and asparagus
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, swiss chard, parsley
- Beans: kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, soy beans, black beans, lima beans
- Blackstrap molasses
- Dried fruit – apricots, raisins, figs, prunes, and prune juice
- Nuts and seeds – peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, walnuts
Meat and seafood sources of iron: (heme iron)
- Chicken, turkey
- Seafood such as oysters, sardines, tuna, salmon, shrimp
- Lean red meats – beef, pork, lamb
- Egg (yolk)
What you need to know about iron absorption – there are 4 things to consider:
- Vitamin C can help the body absorb iron. Eat foods high in vitamin C at the same time as high iron foods. Foods that contain vitamin C are: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and red pepper, cabbage, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, peas, tomatoes, tomato juice
- Calcium can decrease absorption of iron. Eat calcium rich foods at a different time than when eating iron rich foods.
- Limit coffee, tea and sodas because these contain compounds that make it harder for the body to absorb iron.
- High fiber cereals make it hard to absorb iron – eat high fiber cereals at a different time than foods high in iron.
Yes, Popeye was onto something! Getting enough iron in our diet is crucial for us to be able to maintain a healthy vibrant life, considering the number of important functions iron has, and the reach it has throughout our body. Having a low level of iron and/or anemia is very detrimental to all of our organs – we would be unable to function properly and live a normal life.
Let’s look at the top 10 benefits from a diet containing iron rich foods:
- Good overall energy.
- Healthy brain functioning.
- Healthy blood and circulatory system.
- A metabolism that functions at a healthy rate.
- A healthy ability to heal, repair and restore our cells and tissues.
- Optimal, stable body temperature that is supportive for metabolic functions and enzyme production.
- Our organs can function well because they receive the oxygen they need.
- Our immune system is strengthened.
- Healthy skin, hair and nails.
- Our muscles function properly and have good elasticity.
I wrote an article about the sources of animal iron and plant iron: Iron Rich Foods, Part 2: Let’s Get More Specific.
Would you like to find out more about super healthy foods that would enhance your energy, and build your health? Contact me, and let’s chat!
Copyright © 2014 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved