Why Do We Need Iron In Our Diet?
Have you been feeling tired or short of breath recently? Is fatigue an all too familiar thing to you? There could be many reasons for these problems. But it is worth asking yourself one question when it comes to tackling fatigue. Are you getting enough Iron in your diet? It seems simple, but simply eating more Iron rich foods could help you to combat fatigue and physical weakness naturally yet effectively.
This mineral is essential for multiple biochemical processes. Your muscles require Iron in order to contract properly, whilst your brain depends on Iron in order to stay healthy and functional. Iron is even needed for regulating body temperature, strengthening the immune system, and in ensuring proper sleep. But all of these uses depend on Iron’s role in blood. Iron ensures that oxygen can be transported by haemoglobin in red blood cells. This makes it extraordinarily important to a huge range of biological processes. And this means that iron is essential to your overall wellbeing!
What Does Iron Do?
The most significant role of Iron is in transporting oxygen around the body. Everyone knows that oxygen is essential to survival. But did you know that without Iron oxygen could become virtually useless? This is because oxygen needs to be transported around the body via the blood stream. In order for this to happen, Iron is needed. Iron is a key component of haemoglobin. You may have heard of this substance found in red blood cells. It is able to absorb oxygen from the lungs, and take it via the blood stream to where it is required in your body.
About two thirds of your body’s Iron content can be found in haemoglobin. Since haemoglobin is such a crucial part of your red blood cells, a lack of Iron can have serious consequences. No Iron means no oxygen carrying blood cells. You need a good level of Iron in your body so that your Haemoglobin count is healthy. This will ensure that your blood is able to carry out its required function of transporting oxygen.
What happens when there is not enough Iron in the body? This will lead to red blood cells being unable to transport oxygen. This can cause fatigue and exhaustion, both physical and mental. Your cells aren’t getting the oxygen they need in order to function properly. This will slow you down and increase energy consumption at the same time. You can suffer from a weakened immune system, poor nerve reactions, and slow cognitive function. These are some of the key characteristics of Anaemia.
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of Anaemia. This condition affects many people, and can make a normal lifestyle quite difficult to achieve. Most Anaemia sufferers experience chronic fatigue and listlessness. Other common symptoms include paleness, shortness of breath, and slowed cognitive function. Women are particularly suspect to this cause of Anaemia, especially when they are pre-menopausal. Heavy regular periods and pregnancy can all greatly increase the risk of this condition.
The most common treatment of this condition simply involves taking Iron supplements to support proper haemoglobin formation. By directly tackling the Iron deficiency, most Anaemic patients can greatly improve their wellbeing. Iron supplements can improve energy levels, focus, and immune system strength within a few months. But you will need to be monitored over time to make sure that your red blood cells are able to carry oxygen effectively once more.
If you are worried that you are Iron deficient, there are a few common signs and symptoms to watch out for. Cold hands and feet not associated with Reynaud’s disease can indicate poor blood flow. Hair loss and brittle nails are also an indicator of Iron deficiency. A sore tongue as well as sores in the mouth could also be a problem. Some people with severe Iron deficiency may find it difficult to swallow at times. Otherwise, be aware that shortness of breath and a fast heartbeat can indicate Iron deficiency. A rather strange sign of a lack of Iron is a craving for clay or dirt! This may sound bizarre, but it occurs because Iron can be found in these substances. Your body just wants a good source of Iron although you should choose an edible option instead!
Getting Iron in Your Diet.
It is always best to get all your Iron from your diet. Dietary sources of Iron provide you with a form of the mineral that is easy for the body to immediately absorb and use. Avoiding supplements where possible is a good idea. This means that you need to ensure that your diet is filled with Iron rich foods. Eating these foods once or twice a week is not enough. Topping up your Iron levels on a regular basis can help to prevent any risk of deficiency or Iron related problems. Your diet dictates a lot about your wellbeing. So it makes sense to use your diet to ensure that you get all the Iron you need to support a healthy body.
So what should you eat to get enough Iron? In terms of animal foods, liver is a good choice. This may not be a popular or common meat product, but it can be both delicious and nutritious. This organ is packed full of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Riboflavin, Copper and Selenium. In fact, it is denser in these essential vitamins and minerals than most popular cuts of meat. Just 100 g of liver can offer you over a third of your Recommended Daily Allowance for Iron. So how about swapping the chicken or pork for some liver instead? When cooked properly, liver can have a unique and powerful flavour. All this, and it tends to be cheap too! Just be aware that liver is particularly rich in Vitamin A. In high amounts Vitamin A can be harmful to developing babies. So if you are pregnant you may want to wait to benefit from liver in your diet.
Other meat cuts, such as turkey, beef and chicken, can also provide you with a significant amount of Iron. These popular meats are most nutrient dense when they are free range or organic. This is because they tend to be fed higher quality and nutrient dense foods, and are generally raised to be healthier. When the animal is healthier and getting all the nutrients it needs, then this will translate to the meat. So when you buy good quality meat you can be assured of nutritional excellence.
But what if you don’t eat meat? Or just tend not to eat it on a regular basis? Either way, you need plant based alternatives to get your Iron from. Luckily, this isn’t too difficult. There are plenty of nutritious plant foods around that can help you to meet your RDA for Iron.
Seeds and nuts in particular are good options. Rich in protein and Omega-3 essential fatty acids, nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses. They also have the power to supress hunger and keep you going without eating too much. A small handful of nuts or seeds a day could provide you with up to half of your required Iron. Be sure not to overindulge though, since they are high in fats and calories! Try sprinkling seeds on soup or salads, and top muesli with mixed nuts. Squash and pumpkin seeds as well as cashew and almond nuts are your best options for Iron.
Your next go-to plant foods for Iron are beans. Pulses and beans are high in fibre, low in fat, and packed with protein. Vegetarians and vegans often rely on beans to provide them with a good source of plant proteins. If you don’t eat a lot of meat, then they should be a staple of your diet. Even if you are fond of meat, you should be careful not to overlook the value of these nutrient dense super foods. Beans come in a whole range of different flavours, textures, sizes and shapes. They can be cooked in a range of ways and go with almost any kind of meal with a bit of creativity. If you want to make sure you get enough Iron, choose soybeans. Soybeans in pure or processed forms are good for this minerals. So tofu and soya milk can also help you to meet your RDA of Iron. Lentils and kidney beans, as well as chickpeas and black beans, are also Iron rich. Try experimenting with different types of beans to find the ones that you like best.
How much Iron?
Everyone’s nutritional needs are different. A huge range of factors will determine what is right for you. Even someone seemingly physically similar to you may have significantly different Iron needs. But luckily generalised guidelines can be followed to ensure you meet your approximate Iron needs. Between the ages of 19 to 50 women need about 18 mg of Iron a day. Women need much more Iron than men, and are at a greater risk of Anaemia. So if you are a woman it is worth paying attention to your Iron intake! Men only need about 8 mg a day from the age of 19 to the age of 50.