Iron is an essential mineral needed by your body for good health. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen, which leads to symptoms of weakness, dizziness, and fatigue. Iron is also important for healthy brain development and growth in children, and for the normal production and function of various cells and hormones
First, it is important to note that there are two types of iron found in foods: heme and non-heme.
Heme iron is easily absorbed by the body and is found in animal foods, such as meat, poultry, and seafood. Sources of heme iron include organ meats, oysters, clams, mussels, fish, venison, beef, duck, lamb, pork, and poultry.
Non-heme iron is not absorbed as easily by the body and is found in plant foods. Sources of non-heme iron include spinach, pulses, nuts and seeds, black strap molasses, soy and soy-products like tofu, and iron fortified grain products like flour, bread, pasta and breakfast cereal. As non-heme iron is not as well absorbed as heme iron, it is recommended that vegetarians get almost twice as much iron as non-vegetarians.
To ensure you are getting enough iron from your diet, try to include a variety of heme and non-heme iron foods daily. Choosing vitamin C rich foods will also help your body increase the absorption of non-heme iron. Vitamin C rich foods include citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, kiwi, and strawberries. For example, having a spinach salad (non-heme iron) with mandarin oranges (vitamin C) will help your body better absorb the iron. Two other ways to help your body better absorb non-heme iron are cooking with cast iron cookware and eating heme iron foods at the same time as non-heme iron foods.
Brittany Butland provides Dietitian Services at Horizon’s Albert County Community Health Centre. For more tips on nutrition and healthy eating, you can book an appointment with Brittany at (506)882-3100.