Iron is a mineral that aids in the production of hemoglobin, an essential protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. Eating foods with iron can help the body carry out its necessary functions. While some people might require supplements to make up for a lack of iron in their bodies, eating a diet of iron-rich foods is normally sufficient for an otherwise healthy individual. There are many foods with iron that can benefit one’s overall health and help prevent certain medical problems.
The two types of iron commonly found in foods are heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron can be found in animal products, while nonheme iron is found mainly in vegetables and enriched grain products. Although nonheme iron is not absorbed as easily into the bloodstream, both types are considered, by most nutritionists, to be important parts of a healthy diet.
Common sources of heme iron include red meat, especially organ meats, like liver. It can also be found in poultry, most specifically in dark turkey meat. Certain types of seafood are additional sources. Oysters, clams, and mussels, for instance, have significant amounts of heme iron, while shrimp contains a bit less. Egg yolks are yet another example of a food with iron.
Some sources of nonheme iron include vegetables, such as artichokes and baked potatoes consumed with their skins. There has been some debate in the nutrition community about whether spinach is a good source of iron, or if it actually hinders iron absorption. It turns out that both arguments appear to be acceptable, so health professionals generally recommend continuing to eat spinach for its overall health benefits.
Additional foods with iron include legumes, beans, and tofu. Pumpkin seeds and dried fruits, like raisins, also appear frequently on lists of the top iron-rich foods. Other good sources are iron-fortified breads, cereals, and pastas.
Most nutritionists recommend combining nonheme iron sources with foods rich in Vitamin C for better absorption. Some examples of foods rich in this vitamin include citrus fruits, broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes. Furthermore, many experts caution against consuming large amounts of calcium when trying to boost one’s iron intake. They claim that too much calcium, from either food sources or supplements, can interfere with iron absorption.
While it would benefit most people to eat more foods with iron, there is always a potential risk of ingesting too much. Iron toxicity is something to try to avoid, but in most cases, it happens only when someone takes too many iron supplements. Eating iron-rich food does not normally pose such a danger. Nevertheless, someone considering drastic changes in his or her eating habits may first wish to consult a healthcare practitioner for advice.