Iron is primarily needed as a component of hemoglobin to carry oxygen through the blood and to the tissues. Iron is also part of the structure of certain enzymes, needed to maintain a strong immune system, and involved in the growth of hair and nails.
The recommended intake for men is 10 mg; for menstruating women it is 15 mg per day (30 mg per day if obtained mostly from vegetarian sources). Athletes training for more than 4 hours per week deplete iron quicker than non-exercisers, and need to increase their intake.
Sources of Iron:
- Heme iron: red meat, fish, poultry
- Non-heme iron: lentils, beans, leaf vegetables, tofu, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, fortified bread, and fortified breakfast cereals
- Heme iron is absorbed much more efficiently than non-heme iron, therefore the recommended intake for vegetarians is much higher.
Tips to increase absorption of non-heme iron:
- Eat iron source with a vitamin C food such as citrus, red bell peppers, strawberries, melon.
- Heme iron increases the absorption of non-heme iron
- Alcohol increases the absorption of iron
Avoid eating iron rich foods with these:
- Milk; calcium inhibits iron absorption
- Tannins found in coffee and tea reduce absorption
- Very high fiber diets reduce absorption
- Drugs that neutralize or block stomach acid formation reduce the absorption of iron