Iron in food

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Iron in food is essential as it is forms part of haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood which allows oxygen to be carried from the lungs to the tissues.


Why should I be aware of this?

Food must contain adequate quantity of iron as it is an important factor in the body's ability to efficiently circulate oxygen through the blood stream. Deficiencies in iron in the blood can decrease oxygen circulation and lead to tiredness and headaches. Greater deficiency can lead to anemia, with nausea, vomiting, weakness, suppression of the immune system, and difficulty in maintaining body temperature. Low dietary intake, excessive blood loss, or the body's inability to absorb iron due to an underlying disease are the main causes of iron deficiency.

Iron in food and health

Worldwide the most common cause of anemia or low red blood cell count is iron deficiency. Women are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency. Iron deficiency normally affects about 10 percent of pre-menopausal women, 6 percent of post-menopausal women, and less than 2 percent of men.

Symptoms of iron deficiency:

  • Tiredness, giddiness and fast palpitations are some of the initial symptoms
  • Becoming short of breath even on slightest exertion
  • Pale appearance
  • Fainting
  • Severe iron deficiency causes angina (chest pain), headache and pain in the legs

In advanced cases the following symptoms appear:

  • Burning sensation in the tongue.
  • Mouth and throat turn dry
  • Formation of sores near the mouth
  • The nails become brittle
  • Hair becomes brittle
  • Swallowing is difficult

All about iron in food

Where do we get iron? Iron is found in two forms in food, heme iron (more easily absorbed) in most animal products and non heme found in plant sources. HEME iron is found only in meat, fish and poultry and is absorbed much more easily than NON-HEME iron, which is found mostly in fruits, vegetables, dried beans, nuts and grain products."

HEME FOODS include:

Liver, Beef, Chicken, Shrimp, Cod, Flounder, Pork, Salmon, Tuna, and Turkey


Almonds, apricots, bagels, baked beans, bread, broccoli, dates, kidney beans, lima beans, enriched macaroni, chick peas, seaweed, peas, prune juice, raisins, rice, enriched spaghetti, and cooked spinach

Iron needs

Iron needs vary based on age and sex. There are higher iron needs among adolescents and menstruating females have higher iron needs than among children, adult men and postmenopausal women.

What can I do about it?

  • Include in every meal food rich in Vitamin C such any juice, a citrus fruit (orange or grapefruit) cantaloupe or other melon, strawberries, broccoli, pepper, potato.
  • Include some portion of meat, poultry and fish in meal. These foods promote the absorption of the non-heme iron.
  • Avoid coffee and tea for one hour after taking meal. Coffee reduces iron absorption by 35 percent and tea by 60 percent
  • If you are looking for iron supplements, dark green vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens contain iron but it is not of much value to you because it is bound up with other dietary substances such as oxalate and polyphenols. They may contain other nutrients, but not good as iron supplements.


  • Many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron.


  • Benefits, Deficiency and Iron Rich Food
  • All About Iron for Women and Children