Iron is one of the most abundant metals on the planet. Good thing, too — iron is essential to most life forms, including humans. Iron is important to many of the proteins and enzymes that help maintain good health.
What does iron do for the body?
- Iron is an essential component in the proteins that carry oxygen through the body. An iron deficiency can reduce oxygen delivery to the cells, leaving a person fatigued and with a compromised immune system.
- Iron is used by the body to help regulate cell growth and cell differentiation.
The majority of the iron in the body is found in a protein in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to the tissues: hemoglobin. Iron is also found in myoglobin, a protein that helps carry oxygen to the muscles and in some enzymes that help in biochemical reactions. Some proteins in the body store iron for future needs (a function regulated largely by your intestines).
How do you ensure that you’re getting enough iron?
Dietary iron comes in two different forms: heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes from animal foods that contained hemoglobin; nonheme iron comes from plants. Although nonheme iron is easier to find in the average diet, heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body.
Some sources of iron include:
- Chicken liver (heme iron)
- Beef (heme iron)
- Oysters, shrimp, crab, and clams (heme iron)
- Tuna and halibut (heme iron)
- Turkey and chicken (light or dark meat) (heme iron)
- Fortified cereals, breads, and oatmeal (nonheme iron)
- Soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, and other beans (nonheme iron)
- Blackstrap molasses (nonheme iron)
- Tofu (nonheme iron)
- Spinach (nonheme iron)
- Raisins (nonheme iron)
The U.S. recommended daily allowance of iron for adults is 8 milligrams per day for men and 18 milligrams per day for women. After the age of fifty, the USRDA is 8 milligrams per day for both men and women.