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Iron is a part of hemoglobin, a protein in blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It’s also part of an enzyme system that helps release energy from food. Iron helps produce antibodies to fight infection and form new blood cells. A lack of iron can cause you to feel tired and listless, to be pale and to be more susceptible to infection.

Women of child bearing age need more iron than men due to blood loss each month during menstruation and needs during pregnancy.

Meeting iron needs can be a challenge. Even if a food contains iron, it may not be absorbed by the body.There are 2 kinds of iron – heme and nonheme. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body and is found in meat, fish and poultry. It also helps the body absorb nonheme iron more easily. Nonheme iron is found in plant foods. By combining heme and nonheme irons in a meal, you increase the amount of iron your body absorbs. Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron. By eating Vitamin C with your foods (such as an orange with your breakfast cereal) you increase the absorption of the iron in your diet. Many foods are also now supplemented with iron. Read the label to see how much iron is supplied in one serving.

Premenopausal women need 18 mg. of iron a day. Postmenopausal women and men need only 8 mg. of iron daily. Pregnant women should take in 27 mg. of iron each day. Vegetarians are recommended to take in twice as much iron as listed since iron from plant food is not absorbed as well. The upper limit of iron intake is set at 45 mg. daily.

Iron supplements do not take the place of a healthy diet and in fact, too much iron can be toxic. Your doctor will prescribe an iron supplement if she feels it is necessary.

Excellent sources of iron:

  • Instant or quick cooking cream of wheat, instant oatmeal, instant grits (read label)
  • Liver, kidney and other glandular organs
  • Seafood – oysters, shrimp, clams
  • Lean meats – beef, pork, veal, poultry, turkey
  • Legumes – navy beans, lentils, soybeans, split peas, lima beans – any bean that can be dried
  • Whole grain and enriched cereals
  • Blackstrap molasses (I Tablespoon)
  • Dried fruits – 5 apricots, 6 figs, 6 prunes, 1 /2 c. raisins, peaches, pears

Good sources of iron:

  • Egg yolks
  • Dark green leafy vegetables – spinach, turnip greens, kale
  • Tomato and prune juice
  • Enriched flour and flour products (Wonder Kids bread for example)
  • Potatoes, enriched noodles
  • Nuts
  • Wheat germ

To Increase Iron Absorption

  • Eat an iron-rich food along with a Vitamin C rich food.
    • Examples: Beef and Broccoli
    • Iron fortified cereal and strawberries
    • Whole grain toast and orange juice
  • Eat grains and vegetables with meat.
  • Consume an adequate amount of calcium – at least 2 cups skim milk or milk products.
  • Avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals. These reduce the absorption of iron in your body.
  • Cook in a black cast iron skillet.

These Drugs Decrease Iron Absorption

  • Antacids
  • Bicarbonate/baking soda
  • Cholestyramine
  • Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin)