Everything you eat contributes one way or another to the proper functioning of your body. Your food choices can even affect how your blood is able to carry oxygen and supply it to your body. The hemoglobin molecule works by ridding your body of carbon dioxide and absorbing oxygen. Hemoglobin picks up carbon dioxide, a waste product of cellular metabolism, and brings it to the lungs to expel from the body. There, it also picks up oxygen which it delivers to the cells that need it. The amount of iron in your diet can affect how your hemoglobin works.
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Oxygen is carried in your bloodstream by erythrocytes, or red blood cells. The portion of the erythrocyte that holds onto oxygen is the hemoglobin molecule. This microscopic molecule picks up oxygen from your lungs and exchanges it for carbon dioxide at the cellular level. It also rids the carbon dioxide from your body, breaking it off at the site of the lungs for expulsion, according to "Anatomy and Physiology" by Kenneth S. Saladin.
Iron and Hemoglobin
Without hemoglobin your red blood cells cannot carry oxygen and without iron your body cannot manufacture hemoglobin. When you take in iron, your stomach converts it into a usable form. It is then absorbed into the bloodstream where it binds with a transferrin protein. This protein escorts iron to your bone marrow, the place in your body where red blood cells are made.
Iron recommendations vary by age and gender. For adult males, iron intake should be 8 mg per day. For females between the ages of 19 and 50, iron intake should be at 18 mg per day. Women require more iron than men due to iron loss through menstruation. After 50, the recommendation for females meets males at 8 mg per day.
Foods That Strengthen Oxygen Absorption
Eating foods that provide your body with the amount of iron that it needs allows your body to form the hemoglobin inside your blood -- and it will strengthen the body's ability to absorb oxygen from the lungs. Leafy green vegetables like spinach contain a high amount of iron. Fruits like dried apricots, prunes or raisins also provide oxygen-absorbing iron. Kidney beans or chickpeas are high in iron. Red meat such as a hamburger or steak is also a good source of iron.
If you don't eat enough iron, you risk developing a condition known as iron-deficiency anemia. This means that your blood is not able to carry the amount of oxygen that your body needs. Your body reacts to an iron deficiency with an increased heart rate, fatigue, paleness, irritability, an enlarged tongue, enlarged spleen and bizarre cravings for things like dirt, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
- "Anatomy and Physiology"; Kenneth S. Saladin; 2004
- Medline Plus: Iron in Diet; Linda Vorvick, MD; March 2009
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron-Deficiency Anemia; January 2008