Iron Nutrition 101: What You Need

Iron and iron nutrition is considered to be an essential mineral for our bodies and for our overall health. There are many benefits to having the adequate amount in iron in a diet, and there are many health risks that can arise if the proper amounts of iron are not received.

Recommended Intakes

Everyone’s body absorbs and stores iron differently. Men are able to store a larger amount of iron than women do, and because of this, men age 19 and older only need to have 8 mg of iron per day. Women do not store iron as well and because of this, women ages 19 to 50 need 18 mg of iron per day. Women 51 and older need only 8 mg of iron per day.

Sources of Iron

Iron comes in different forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron comes from animal products and is absorbed more easily. Good sources of animal products or heme iron come in the form of:

  • red meat
  • organ meats
  • fish
  • poultry
  • eggs

Nonheme iron comes from plant products. Good sources of plant products would be:

  • beans
  • lentil
  • whole grains
  • green leafy vegetables
  • dried fruits

Iron Benefits

Iron is essential for the formation of hemoglobin in the blood and myoglobin in the muscles. Two-thirds of the iron in the body is found in the hemoglobin. This is the protein that is in the red blood cells that carries the oxygen to the tissues. Smaller amounts of iron are found in the myoglobin. This is the protein that helps to supply oxygen to the muscle. Hemoglobin and myoglobin are the transportation system that carries oxygen to the cells. Iron is vital in this process.

Iron is part of energy metabolism. This is also helpful to regulate cell growth. Iron is also involved in preventing health issues.  Iron has been shown to keep the red blood cells healthy and strong. A main health issue that iron prevents is iron deficiency anemia.

Iron Deficiency

Anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency.  If not enough iron is in the body, the cells of the body will not be getting enough oxygen. This can cause a number of different symptoms such as weakness, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue and irritability. Infants, children and women who are of menstruating age are at the greatest risk for anemia.

Iron Surplus

Too much iron in the body is also a concern. Too much can cause additional health concerns and can even be fatal. Excess iron can cause damage to the heart and the brain. If prolonged iron excess is present, there is a risk of heart attack and stroke.  Iron surplus is a risk, but is not that common. It tends to happen where blood transfusions and surgeries are involved.

Iron is an important tool needed to have a healthy and well-functioning body. Consuming the proper amounts will keep the blood flowing properly and the proper amount of oxygen will be in that flowing blood. If there is not enough iron or if there is too much, there is reason for concern. Following the daily recommendations is key.


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