The primary function of iron in the body is the formation of haemoglobin. Iron is used in the prevention and treatment of iron deficiencies, whether caused by blood disorders, pregnancy or a low iron diet. When total body iron or circulating iron is low, general fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, learning difficulties and irritability may be seen.
The average iron absorption is about 8 to 10 % of intake. All vegetable sources contain ‘nonheme’ form of iron which is poorly absorbed and utilised. ‘Heme’ iron, a special form of iron, is only found in flesh foods, with beef and liver being the best sources. Between 20-30% of heme iron is absorbed. Combining heme foods with nonheme foods improves absorption of iron from nonheme foods.
The following are some underestimated yet excellent Sources of Iron:
Brewer’s yeast, an integral component used to manufacture beer and bread, is also a powerhouse of valuable nutrients such as chromium, vitamin B and iron. A one celled fungus named Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the origin of Brewer’s Yeast. It is also helpful in maintaining a normal blood sugar level and works as an effective probiotic.
Molasses is formed during the sugar cane refining process as a by-product. Sugar cane is first mashed and boiled to create cane syrup and a second round of boiling gives molasses. Blackstrap Molasses is an extremely efficient iron source as 5 tablespoons of it contains 95% of our daily iron requirement. It is also used as a bone booster and helpful for diabetes patients. It is packed with potassium as well.
Pumpkin, Sesame, Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and flaxseeds are immensely rich in iron, comprising around 1.2–4.2 mg per two tablespoons. Produce made from these seeds are also rich in protein such as Tahini, made from sesame seeds contains 2.6 mg of iron per two tablespoons. Likewise, hummus produced from chickpeas and tahini provides around 3 mg of iron per half cup.
Seeds contain sufficient amounts of plant protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients as well.
Red meat is an essential dietary source of nutrients, especially iron and zinc. Red meat consists almost 13% of total iron intake in the UK and comprises of the more readily absorbed ‘haem’ form of iron. In the UK, almost 50% of girls aged 11-18 years and over one fourth of women aged 19-64 years have iron deficiencies. Studies have proved that non-meat eaters are more likely to have lower iron body stores in comparison to meat-eaters. People following strictly vegetarian diets are more prone to suffer from iron – deficiency anaemia. Red meat also contains vitamin A and is found in abundance in liver.
Dark chocolate distinctively contains more nutrients and minerals than milk chocolate. Not only does it contain 3.3 mg of iron per ounce (28 grams), fulfilling around 18% of the RDI, but it also contains a significant measure of fiber, magnesium, copper and manganese. Moreover, dark chocolate is a strong source of antioxidants, (a group of beneficial plant compounds that aid in protecting the body against various diseases).
Beans And Peas
White, lima, red kidney and navy beans closely resemble soybeans, as they offer 4.4–6.6 mg of iron per cup cooked, or 24–37% of the RDI. Although, chickpeas and black-eyed peas possess the highest iron content. They provide around 4.6–5.2 mg of iron per cup cooked, or 26–29% of the RDI. Moreover, in addition to the numerous nutritional advantages of beans and peas, it also comprises of complex carbs, fiber, folate, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and several other useful plant compounds. It has also been proved that regular consumption of beans and peas can aid in reducing cholesterol, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and also help in reducing belly fat.
Potatoes contain substantial amounts of iron which is mostly concentrated in its skin. One large unpeeled potato weighing 10.5 ounces (or 295 grams) provides around 3.2 mg of iron, which is 18% of the RDI. Sweet potatoes contain slightly less amounts of iron — around 2.1 mg for an equal quantity of sweet potato, (or 12% of the RDI). Potatoes are also an abundant store of fibre. Also, one portion of potato can fulfil up to 46% of our daily vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium requirements.