The health benefits and best sources of iron.
All of the cells in our bodies contain iron however it is mostly found in our red blood cells. We don’t really notice the benefits of iron in our bodies however we will definitely notice when we have a deficiency.
This mineral is vital to the proper function of hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that is responsible for the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. Myoglobin makes the acceptance, storage, transportation, and release of oxygen possible in the cells of our muscles. It should also be noted that up to 25% of the iron in our bodies is stored in our cells as ferritin.
Health Benefits of Iron
Improves Muscle Function
As I mentioned earlier, iron is present in the muscle tissues and helps provide the supply of oxygen required for the contraction of muscles. Without it, muscles lose their tone and elasticity; muscle weakness is one of the most obvious signs of iron deficiency anemia.
Increases Brain Function
Since oxygen supply in the blood is aided by iron and the brain uses approximately 20% of blood oxygen, Iron is directly related to brain health. Proper blood floow in the brain boosts concentration and cognitive performance.
Iron plays a key role in providing strength to the immune system. Hemoglobin is necessary for providing oxygen to damaged tissues, organs, and cells. Without iron, there would be no hemoglobin.
How To Get Enough Iron
The best way to pump our iron is through our diet.
There are two types of dietary iron categorized as Heme (or animal sources) and Non-Heme (or plant sources).
- Heme Iron is more easily absorbed by the body and is found in animal sources as it is derived from hemoglobin. It’s found in animal foods that originally contained hemoglobin, such as red meats, fish, and poultry (actually meat, poultry, and seafood contain both heme and non-heme iron).
- Non-heme iron is found in plant based foods and is harder to absorb as it requires our bodies to perform a few more metabolic processes. Non-heme iron is found in nuts, beans, soy, vegetables, and fortified grains.
Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron. Vitamin C rich foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers & broccoli eaten with non-heme iron foods will increase the bioavailability of iron.
It is also important to note that there are some foods that block or reduce iron absorption like the polyphenols in cereals and legumes, tannins in coffee & tea and the phosphates in carbonated beverages. Try not to consume these foods along with iron rich foods.
Best Sources Of Iron
The best sources of heme iron is beef or chicken liver, mussels & oysters at 3.5mg of iron per serving. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can get 3.5mg of non-heme iron in cooked beans, tofu and iron fortified cereals.
Good Sources of Iron
Good sources of heme iron that contain 2.1mg per serving is cooked beef and canned sardines. You can get the same amount of non heme iron in chickpeas, dried apricots, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Other sources of iron include salmon, tuna, nuts, broccoli, spinach and dark chocolate (at lest 45%).
If you have trouble getting enough iron from food sources or you have other health issues, you may need an iron supplement. It is best to speak to your health care provider about the proper dosage first and follow their instructions carefully. Since our bodies store iron, very little is excreted from the body leaving us at risk for a build up of iron in our tissues and organs. Although iron toxicity from food sources is very rare, overdoses are possible with supplements.
Try adding this iron boosting tortellini soup to your next meal plan. Whole grain pasta and spinach are rich sources of non-heme iron. It’s readily absorbed in this meal thanks to the vitamin C from tomatoes.
Iron Boosting Tortellini Soup
Prep Time 10 mins – Total Time 40 mins – Serves 8
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 pinch dried red chili flakes
- 1 ½ cup white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 28 oz tin whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
- 4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
- ½ lb(s) turkey sausages, meat removed from casing (optional – omit for plant based soup)
- 3 cup fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
- 2 cup packed baby spinach
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh basil, for serving
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chunks of the sausage meat and cook until it begins to brown. Add the onion, celery and garlic; stir until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the oregano, thyme and chili flakes; stir for 1 minute.
- Add the white kidney beans, stock and tomatoes; stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the tortellini, spinach and pepper. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until tortellini are cooked and spinach has wilted.
- Serve with freshly torn basil and Parmesan cheese.
Iron is an essential mineral in the human body.
So fill your plate with some of the iron rich foods I mentioned and you will reap the rewards of a strong immune system, optimal energy, focus and concentration – willpower not required.
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