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Iron enriched foods are foods with an iron content that has been enhanced by adding iron during processing. Grains, such as those used to make bread and pasta, are commonly enriched with not only iron, but an array of dietary nutrients. Enrichment is done to ensure that people have adequate access to the dietary nutrients they need. Nutrient deficiencies are of special concern for people who experience food insecurity and as a result, many low-cost foods heavily utilized by people in poverty are enriched by government mandate to prevent deficiencies.
Iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency, especially in groups at risk. Toddlers, women who are pregnant or of childbearing age, pre-term babies, people with certain types of bleeding disorders, and people on dialysis are at risk of iron deficiency. Deficiency can be caused by a high demand and inadequate supply, inability to process iron, or difficulty producing red blood cells to carry iron. Iron enriched foods can be beneficial for these individuals.
Foods enriched with iron are used to bridge the gap between the ordinary supply of dietary iron and the iron needs of individuals. While people can take iron supplements, eating enriched foods can provide people with access to more nutrients, and the nutrients can be easier to process when consumed with food. For example, iron is easier to metabolize when it is consumed with vitamin C, and thus people who eat iron enriched foods, like pasta, with a sauce rich in vitamin C will be more able to access the iron inside.
Enriched foods are clearly labeled on their packaging. The nutritional information should disclose the nutritional contents of the food, noting the percentage of recommended daily values contained in each serving. It is important to be aware that recommendations for iron intake vary depending on gender and age. For example, pregnant women need an estimated 27 milligrams a day, while adult males need only eight milligrams a day. It can be helpful to look up a dietary recommendations chart to determine nutritional needs for a person of a given age and gender to see whether or not iron enriched foods are necessary.
Overdosing on iron enriched foods is unlikely, and thus people who are not necessarily deficient can still eat such foods safely. Enriching common staples is one way to address nutritional needs in societies where people may lack nutritional education, be unable to access certain foods, or have difficulty affording daily staples. People who are not sure about whether or not they are meeting their dietary needs can meet with a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist to discuss the issue.