The Health Benefits of Iron and How to Get Enough in Your Diet

Updated on December 10, 2017
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Iron is an essential mineral, yet many people do not get enough of it in their diets. There are many health benefits associated with consuming the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron in your diet. This is especially true for children and adolescents, who require a sufficient amount to provide their growing bodies the building blocks they need to grow to their is full potential both physically and mentally.

It is important to understand which foods contain sufficient amounts of iron and other dietary choices that affect how much iron the body absorbs. It is also critical to realize that for iron intake, too much of a good thing can be detrimental to your health and can actually be life threatening. Iron consumption in moderation in the recommended amounts is the best approach.

Iron Rich Foods

To get enough iron from your diet, make sure you eat enough iron rich foods each day.
To get enough iron from your diet, make sure you eat enough iron rich foods each day. | Source

What Are the Health Benefits of Iron?

Why should you care about consuming enough iron each day? Because It plays a crucial role in the production of hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is used by red blood cells to carry oxygen to cells throughout the body. Myoglobin is a protein found in muscle tissue that helps muscles receive, store and release oxygen. Iron also plays a key role with metabolization of certain types of proteins, healthy brain function, keeping the immune system running at a optimal level, and regulating body temperature.

Maintaining sufficient iron levels in the bloodstream is especially crucial for children during their growth years, because growing bodies need copious amounts of oxygen, which is carried by a healthy amount of iron-derived hemoglobin in red blood cells. The lack of hemoglobin provided oxygen is what makes iron-deficient children and adults feel tired and irritable.

Healthy oxygen levels in the bloodstream provide oxygen sufficient quantities to the brain, which it needs to function at peak efficiency. It also helps with the formation of neurotransmitters in the brain, which are essential for healthy brain function and cognitive ability, which may even help prevent long-term brain conditions such as dementia.

The human immune system also benefits from adequate iron levels. Not only does this ensure that tissues and organs get the oxygen they need to maintain good health and repair themselves, but it also helps the immune system regulate itself and destroy harmful microorganisms.

The Health Effects of Low Iron Levels

Low iron levels can cause a number of negative health effects. For children, iron deficiency can stunt their growth and inhibit their physical and mental development. In both children and adults, it can cause tiredness and fatigue. A severe lack of iron can cause a condition known as anemia, which leads to excessive tiredness and weakness, as muscles have trouble functioning.

Spinach Is an Excellent Source of Iron

The cartoon Popeye The Sailor Man was notorious for making the connection between eating iron-rich spinach and good health (strong muscles for Popeye).
The cartoon Popeye The Sailor Man was notorious for making the connection between eating iron-rich spinach and good health (strong muscles for Popeye). | Source

How Do You Get Enough Iron In Your Diet?

Getting enough iron in your diet is not difficult, you just need to make a conscious effort to eat foods high in iron. It can be a challenge to get children to eat foods that are high in iron, since many of those foods are not kid’s favorites, but there are ways to ensure children get enough iron in their daily food intake.

Foods that are high in iron include: leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, meats, seafood, chickpeas, soybeans, beans, lentils, raisins, apricots, nuts, peanut butter, and iron-fortified cereals, pastas, and breads.

One important way to increase your iron intake is to also eat foods that are high in Vitamin C, such as oranges, since Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron as food is digested. A glass of orange juice with a high iron meal is an excellent way to ensure that you absorb the iron from foods that you eat.

Tips for Getting Enough

Here are some practical suggestions for getting the iron you need from your diet.

  • Eat iron-fortified cereals for breakfast and iron-fortified bread with sandwiches for lunch.
  • For snacks, consider nuts or raisins that are high in iron.
  • For dinner, consume meats and leafy green vegetables, such as spinach. Of course, eating too much red meat can cause other health concerns, so try to include at least one portion of a high-iron vegetable that is high in iron each evening, for those evenings that you are not eating red meat.
  • If changing your diet is not practical, then keep in mind that many multi-vitamins, such as Centrum, provide a large percentage of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron intake. While multi-vitamins provide a large portion of the iron needed on a daily basis, you will still need to make up the balance elsewhere in your diet.

How to Help Children Get Enough

  • Consider offering iron-fortified breakfast cereals that your children like.
  • Make sandwiches with iron-fortified bread.
  • Find dark chocolate products that they like, which are also high in iron.
  • You can also introduce them to leafy green vegetables or beans that are high in iron. Just don’t rush it. Have them eat a little of them to try them out, then slowly increase the amount you give them.
  • Make sure they eat iron-rich meat, as it not only provides iron, but it also provides proteins that their growing bodies need.
  • If you prefer having your children eat as vegetarians, then give them plenty of iron-rich cereals, bread, nuts or fruits.

Warning: Iron Supplements Can Be Dangerous

Since getting enough iron from foods can be difficult, if iron-rich foods do not appeal to a person’s palate, some find it tempting to use iron supplements to ensure they get enough iron. While iron supplements make sense in some cases for people with specific health problems that are under a doctor’s care, for most people it is not a good idea to take iron supplements. This is because too much iron intake can cause serious short and long-term health problems. In fact, if iron reaches very high levels in a person’s bloodstream, it can be deadly, a condition known as iron poisoning. It is best to just avoid iron supplementation, unless done under a doctor’s care.

You Need Less Iron as You Grow Older

Excessive iron intake may have negative health consequences for middle and older aged people. While the body needs lots of iron during its growth years, excessive iron intake by adults may actually lead to or exacerbate chronic health conditions, including: diabetes, cancer, arthritis, liver conditions and heart disease. Excessive iron levels in the blood stream may also be a contributing cause of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. To stay healthy throughout life, it is important to stay within the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron in your diet for your age group.

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The health benefits of Iron

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2016 John Coviello


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    • Rock_nj profile imageAUTHOR

      John Coviello 

      2 years ago from New Jersey

      I'm glad that people are finding this article about the health benefits of iron and how to make sure you get enough of it to be helpful.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I learned new and valuable information on iron from your post. I try to get my iron from eating properly. I didn't realize you could overdo this as you age.


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