Anemia leaves you tired and weak. It can cause your heart to thud irregularly and leave you gasping for air even after minimal exertion, such as climbing a flight of stairs. In many cases, anemia is a result of inadequate nutrition. Iron is one the most abundant minerals on the planet, but it's quite possible that if you’re suffering from anemia, you don’t have enough of it in your body. Increasing your dietary intake of iron can help. Consult your doctor before taking iron supplements.
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Iron and Anemia
Iron is an essential mineral that your body uses to help transport oxygen to the tissues that need it. Most of the iron in your body is dedicated to this purpose. As part of the red blood component known as hemoglobin, iron helps bind oxygen molecules to blood cells, allowing oxygen to be distributed to the cells and organs throughout your body. The fatigue of anemia results when these cells and organs do not receive enough oxygen to meet normal physiological demand.
Types of Dietary Iron
Dietary iron comes in two forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron is derived from foods that contain hemoglobin -- in other words, animal-based foods such as meat, fish and poultry. Plants don’t bleed, and plant-based foods don’t contain heme iron. Nonheme iron is found in some plant-based foods, such as lentils and beans. Nonheme iron derived from plant sources is used to fortify foods that are naturally low in iron, such as white bread and grits.
Bioavailability of Heme vs. Nonheme Iron
Sorry, vegetarians, but in terms of easily absorbed iron, animal-based foods are your best source. “Bioavailability” is a term used to describe how readily a particular nutrient is absorbed and utilized by your body. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, heme iron is more bioavailable than nonheme iron. Heme iron absorption is also less commonly inhibited by other nutrients, while nonheme iron absorption may be inhibited by phytic acid, which is present in grains and rice, polyphenols, which occur in fruits and vegetables, and soy protein. So the iron found in these plant-based foods is not only harder to absorb, but absorption is further hindered by the presence of other factors.
Sources of Heme Iron
Cooked chicken liver is a particularly rich source of heme iron. It contains 12.8 milligrams per 3.5-ounce serving. If the thought of chicken liver is less than palatable to you, you can try lean beef chuck roast, at 3.2 milligrams per 3-ounce serving, fried breaded clams, at 3 milligrams per 0.75 cup, or dark roasted turkey meat, at 2.3 milligrams per 3.5 ounce.