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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Super Nutrient of the Week: Why We Need Iron

Iron-rich foodFor many of the populations that I work with (pregnant women and athletes), iron is an extremely important mineral that needs to be a part of their diets daily. Iron is required for a number of vital functions, including

  • Growth
  • Reproduction
  • Wound healing and
  • Immune function

The main role of iron is to carry oxygen to the tissues where it is needed. Iron is also essential for the proper functioning of numerous enzymes involved in

  • DNA synthesis,
  • Energy metabolism, and
  • Protection against microbes and free radicals.

That’s why this week’s super nutrient of the week is iron!

Iron deficiency affects about 30% of the world’s population. People with iron deficiency may get short of breath and tire quickly. They also have a lower resistance to infection, and may develop sores at the corner of the mouth or in the stomach. Severe iron deficiency results in anemia associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, and impaired mental and physical performance. I would suggest getting your hemoglobin and hematocrit checked out by your primary care physician if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

So how can we get iron?

Iron occurs in foods in two different forms: 1. Heme iron mainly from hemoglobin and myoglobin in meat, poultry, and fish and 2. Non-heme iron from plants sources including

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Spinach
  • Fortified cereals

Heme iron is absorbed better than non-heme sources. In order to increase the amount of iron absorbed from non-heme plant sources, try to eat them with foods high in vitamin C (fruits and vegetables) or always pair them with a meat, poultry, or fish source. Absorption of non-heme iron is inhibited by tannins (in tea and coffee) so be sure not to consume these at the same time as your iron sources.

How much do we need?

For adults, the RDA for iron is 8 mg/day for men ages 19 and older as well as women ages 51 and older. For women 19 to 50 years, the RDA is 18 mg/day. Your iron needs almost double when you’re pregnant to a whopping 27 mg/day. For breast-feeding women, the RDA is 9 mg/day for ages 19 to 50.

Eating a variety of foods that contain iron as a part of a balanced diet is the best way to meet your daily needs! For some iron rich foods/recipes check out my book Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition for Dummies.

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Tags: Nutrition

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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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