Iron is an essential nutrient for good overall health. It is a major component of several enzymes and proteins, including those involved with carrying oxygen to cells. When your iron levels are low, you may feel tired and weak and may get sick more often. You can prevent iron deficiency by eating foods high in iron along with foods that help you absorb iron more efficiently.
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Types of Dietary Iron
The type of dietary iron you consume greatly determines how much of the iron you eat is absorbed by the body. Heme iron one type of dietary iron. It is more readily absorbed by the body because it is derived from foods that once contained hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells. Nonheme iron is the other form of dietary iron. Derived from foods without hemoglobin, nonheme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron and should be eaten with other foods that boost iron absorption.
Recommended Daily Intake for Iron
The recommended daily allowance for iron varies by age and gender. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, adult men and women ages 19 to 50 should have 8 milligrams and 18 milligrams of iron per day, respectively. Pregnant and lactating women ages 19 to 50 should have 27 milligrams and 9 milligrams, respectively. Both men and women over age 50 should have 8 milligrams. People who do not eat animal products, athletes exercising at high intensity or for long periods of time and women with heavy menstrual periods may require more iron than the recommended amounts.
Good Sources of Heme Iron
Foods that once contained hemoglobin are the only sources of the heme type of dietary iron. Animal products originally containing hemoglobin such as red meat, poultry and seafood are all good sources of heme iron. In fact, 3 ounces of cooked chicken liver contains more than 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance for iron. Other good sources of heme iron include sirloin steak, ground beef and beef chuck, dark turkey meat, beef liver and oysters.
Good Sources of Nonheme Iron
Nonheme sources of iron include fruits and vegetables, dried beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains and fortified cereals. In fact, fortified cereals can have up to 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron. Other good sources of nonheme iron include lentils, kidney and black beans, spinach and dried fruit such as raisins. Because nonheme iron is more difficult to absorb, eating vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges, strawberries and broccoli along with nonheme iron sources can aid in iron absorption. Eating sources of heme iron with nonheme iron sources can also ensure you are meeting your iron requirements.