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What You Need To Know About Iron

 

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What You Need To Know About Iron

Iron is essential for your body to function. It is used to produce hemoglobin, which is needed in the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the entire body. Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails. Here is what you need to know to meet your daily iron needs and how to avoid iron deficiency.


Iron Rich Foods

Iron in food comes in two main forms: heme and non-heme.

  • Heme iron can be found in foods from animal sources (such as red meat, poultry, fish, seafood).
  • Non-heme iron comes from plant-based foods (such as dried fruits, molasses, whole grains, legumes, green vegetables, nuts, seeds).

Iron and Vitamin C

Most of the iron we consume is non-heme which the body doesn't absorb as well compared to foods that contain heme iron. Vitamin C increases the absorption of non-heme iron so combining foods that contain non-heme iron with vitamin C-containing foods can help increase your iron intake.

Here are some food combinations to help your body absorb iron:

  • Spinach and strawberry salad
  • Cereal with berries
  • Pasta with tomato sauce
  • Sautéed kale and red peppers
  • Oatmeal with blueberries
  • Leafy greens and lemon juice
Iron

Common Food Sources of Iron

See the table below for the iron content of some common foods.


Food GroupFoodServing sizeIron (mg)
Vegetables and Fruit
Spinach cooked125 mL (½ cup)3.4
Asparagus, raw6 spears2.1
Potato, with skin, baked1 medium1.9
Snow peas, cooked125 mL (½ cup)1.7
Turnip greens baked125 mL (½ cup)1.7
Green peas, cooked125 mL (½ cup)1.3
Tomato sauce125 mL (½ cup)1.2
Kale, frozen, cooked125 mL (½ cup)0.6
Grain Products
Cream of wheat, cooked175 mL (¾ cup)3.0
Cereal, dry30 g4.6
Oatmeal, instant, cooked175 mL (¾ cup)4.5
Soda crackers10 crackers1.7
Pasta, spaghetti, enriched, cooked125 mL (½ cup)1.0
Granola bar, fruit and nut1 bar0.6
Milk and Alternatives This food group contains very little of this nutrient
Meat and Alternatives
Liver, cooked 75 g ( 2.5 oz)9.7
Beef, cooked75 g ( 2.5 oz)2.4
Sardines, canned75 g ( 2.5 oz)2.2
Clams, canned75 g ( 2.5 oz)2.0
Seafood (shrimp, scallops, crab), cooked75 g ( 2.5 oz)1.4
Tuna, light, canned in water75 g ( 2.5 oz)1.2
Non-Meat Sources
Soybeans, dry, boiled175 mL (¾ cup)6.5
Tofu, raw, prepared with calcium sulphate175 mL (¾ cup)5.2
Lentils, cooked175 mL (¾ cup)4.9
Pumpkin or squash seeds 60 mL (¼ cup)4.7
Beans (kidney, white, navy, pinto, black, adzuki), cooked175 mL (¾ cup)3.3
Baked beans, canned175 mL (¾ cup)3.2
Peas (chickpeas/garbanzo, black-eyed/cowpeas, split), cooked 175 mL (¾ cup)2.9
Sesame seeds, roasted60 mL (¼ cup)2.5
Nuts (cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, pistachio), without shell60 mL (¼ cup)1.4
Eggs, cooked2 large1.2
Other Blackstrap molasses15 mL (1 Tbsp)3.6

Iron Deficiency

Decreased iron levels in the blood can lead to what is referred to as iron deficiency anemia. This problem can lead to various symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and pallor. Some people may not experience any symptoms.

Iron deficiency anemia can have various causes including:

  • Women with heavier menstrual flow
  • Individuals with higher iron needs including: infants, children, premenopausal women and pregnant women
  • Hemorrhage
  • Conditions that affect iron absorption such as digestive disorders (celiac disease or inflammatory diseases) or cancer
  • Vegetarianism and veganism

Most people with mild iron deficiency anemia won't notice it. Most common symptoms of iron defiency are:

  • Abnormal fatigue
  • Pale complexion
  • A rapid pulse
  • Increased shortness of breath during exercise
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased mental performance

Iron Supplements

Supplements can be useful to manage iron deficiency. Iron supplements or injections are used to increase the body's iron supply to promote hemoglobin production.

Oral iron supplements are available at the pharmacy. They can be prescribed or in some cases bought over the counter. Your iron levels should be checked through lab work before taking iron supplements.

Iron supplements can cause side effects such as a metallic taste, heartburn, nausea, constipation or dark stool. Always speak to a healthcare professional such as your pharmacist to determine if iron supplements would be beneficial.


Iron and Pregnancy

Pregnant women require 27 mg of iron per day and should not exceed 45 mg per day.

Iron is essential during pregnancy. It is a key component of proteins found in certain enzymes and in hemoglobin, which is responsible for oxygen transport. It is also crucial for the growth of the fetus and the placenta during the third trimester of pregnancy. It's for this reason, along with women's increased red blood cell mass, that women need to increase their iron intake during pregnancy.


The information in this resource is for general information purposes only and is not intended to replace informed medical advice. Consume foods according to any dietary guidelines you have been provided from a health care professional. Metro Ontario Pharmacies Limited assumes no legal liability for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of the information.


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