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Nutrient in the Spotlight: Iron

Most people are pretty good at eating enough of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Micronutrients – mostly vitamins and minerals – are another story. There are a handful of micronutrients that many of us struggle with, and at the top of that list is iron.

Why are people commonly deficient in iron?

Women are much more commonly deficient in iron than men, and women also don’t consume as much on average. This is especially pronounced during pregnancy, when iron needs are highest for women. Anyone following a vegan diet also needs to be attentive to iron intake.

How much iron does a person need in a day?

Adult males need about 8 milligrams per day, while adolescent males require about 11 milligrams daily. Requirements for women are higher across the board; in adolescence, needs are around 15 milligrams but this jumps to 18 milligrams in adulthood. 27 milligrams of iron is the daily recommendation during pregnancy, more than three times the amount required for the typical adult male.

Which foods are high in iron?

Keep in mind that there are two types of iron in food – heme and nonheme iron. Heme iron is absorbed much more efficiently by our bodies and is found in higher amounts in animal foods, while nonheme iron is primarily a component of plant-based foods.

Good sources of heme iron:

  • Beef

  • Pork

  • Poultry

  • Fish

Good sources of nonheme iron:

  • Fortified breakfast cereal

  • Beans and legumes

  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale

Is there anything that helps to boost iron absorption?

As mentioned earlier, heme iron food sources offer better absorption than nonheme. In addition, vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, berries, and brightly-colored vegetables like bell peppers) improves iron absorption. Avoid drinking coffee or tea with high-iron foods, however, as certain nutrients in those foods decrease iron absorption.

What are the consequences of an iron deficiency?

Iron’s main function is in red blood cells and their ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Without adequate iron, the body struggles to maintain energy levels. Iron deficiency, often referred to as anemia, leads to fatigue, weakness, poor memory and concentration, and reduced immune function.

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