5 Foods that Are Rich in Iron

Lack of iron can lead to anemia, a chronic pathology that causes fatigue. To avoid reaching such a situation, we're going to tell you about 5 foods that are rich in iron.
5 Foods that Are Rich in Iron
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez in 19 August, 2021.

Last update: 19 August, 2021

Iron is one of the essential minerals that are part of the foods we eat. It’s an important element in the body, as it performs several different functions at a physiological level. If we fail to meet our iron requirements, chronic and complex illnesses may develop in the medium term that affect the state of our health. However, it’s important to note that not all the iron present in food is of the same quality. Also, not all foods have significant concentrations of the mineral inside. Therefore, it’s important to identify the foods that are rich in iron and know how to best take advantage of them.

The types of iron in food

There are two types of iron present in food, heme (animal origin) and non-heme (plant origin). The first is characterized by its high absorption in comparison to non-heme. It’s an element that’s effective in avoiding deficiencies of this nutrient, preventing the development of chronic illnesses.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that almost all the iron present in food has a moderate absorption rate, which sometimes makes it difficult to meet the requirements. Likewise, it’s possible to find substances, such as fiber, that work as antinutrients. This means that they partially block the absorption of this mineral.

However, there are strategies to increase the absorption of iron from the intestine. One of them is to ingest the nutrient along with a dose of vitamin C. This is evidenced by a study published in the journal JAMA. Both elements interact positively.

Problems that occur due to a lack of iron

Lack of iron can lead to disease
Iron deficiency anemia is the direct consequence of an inadequate intake of iron in the diet for a long time. It causes tiredness, shortness of breath, and paleness.

Not meeting your daily iron requirements can lead to the development of chronic health problems. Among them, anemia stands out, an illness that causes fatigue and extreme tiredness. In this case, it’s iron deficiency anemia, since another manifestation of the problem can result from an inefficient supply of vitamin B12.

Iron functions as a key cofactor within red blood cells, allowing oxygen molecules to bind and transport them later. If there’s a deficiency of the mineral, there will be problems in the delivery of oxygen to the tissues and organs, according to research published in the journal The Medical Clinics of North America.

It’s important to remember that when the illness develops, it’s not always easy for the patient to recover. On many occasions, recovery doesn’t come with the administration of iron and vitamin C supplements. Therefore, you have to opt for the administration of the mineral intravenously. This treatment is invasive but its success rate is high.

However, you should note that low iron levels can also be experienced for reasons other than an improper diet. For example, high-level athletes tend to have greater nutrient losses from vigorous physical activity.

Normally, when they’re subjected to very high workloads, they enter a state called overtraining, in which a decrease in iron concentrations in the blood can be observed. In these cases, it’s important to include foods with a high content of the mineral to prevent and correct the problem.

Another case of typical iron deficiency is that of women who have very heavy menstrual bleeding. With the blood, they lose a large amount of the mineral. Therefore, they need to compensate for the losses through dietary intake. However, in these cases, intestinal absorption usually increases thanks to the existence of a compensatory mechanism.

Foods that are rich in iron

Next, we’ll discuss five foods that are rich in iron that you can include in your diet in order to avoid anemia and iron deficiencies.

Pork liver

As a general rule, organ meats are products with a high nutritional density. They have many micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, making them suitable foods for the prevention of deficits of essential nutrients. However, from an organoleptic point of view, not everyone finds them pleasing.

Keep in mind that these foods have to be cooked properly. They usually have toxins inside them or even bacteria in the case of the intestines. Therefore, it’s important to subject the viscera to a proper cooking process that eliminates the presence of pathogens and destroys those substances that can be harmful to human health.

In no case should you choose to eat these products raw, as you can with other cuts of meat or fish. Nor should you consume them excessively. They can appear in your diet, but they shouldn’t be the basis of it.

In recent years, a series of carnivorous diets have become popular that promote the consumption of only red meat and derivatives, such as organ meats. However, these types of diets produce a severe nutritional deficit in the medium term and seriously damage health.

Just the same, as this is all still very recent, there’s no evidence and long-term studies that compare the effects that these guidelines cause.

Chicken

Poultry is also capable of providing large amounts of iron. We’re still talking about heme iron, so we ensure a fairly acceptable absorption rate. Even more so if we ensure its absorption with a product that contains vitamin C, such as citrus fruits.

In addition, chicken has a significant concentration of proteins of high biological value in its interior. These nutrients are essential in order to ensure a correct state of health, especially in terms of lean mass. They help to build tissue and prevent its degeneration, as well as the appearance of loss of strength.

According to research published in the journal BioMed Research International, protein consumption, along with regular physical exercise, turns out to be one of the best strategies to prevent and treat sarcopenia. This disease occurs with the destruction of muscle tissue and is typical of old age.

It’s important to take into account that, during the last stages of life, a reduction in muscle strength is associated with an increased risk of mortality. For this reason, it’s crucial to consider dietary mechanisms related to avoiding this problem.

Spinach

Spinach is also among the foods that are rich in iron. In this case, we’re talking about vegetable iron or non-heme, with a rather limited absorption capacity. However, these foods have a significant concentration of vitamin C in their interior, which compensates for the problems of the mineral when it comes from plant sources.

In addition, spinach contains other minerals that are beneficial to health. And, what’s more, it has phytonutrients with an antioxidant capacity. These elements have been shown to be able to neutralize the production of free radicals and their accumulation in the tissues, which is associated with a delay in aging and a better state of health.

It’s important to keep oxidation and inflammation mechanisms under control during all stages of life. They’re necessary for the body to function properly. However, when we promote them in excess, they can damage our health and favor the development of chronic and complex illnesses that affect our well-being.

Quinoa

Quinoa’s a product that belongs to the group of pseudo-cereals. It’s a high-quality, low-glycemic source of carbohydrates. It’s also characterized by the presence of fiber inside.

This substance helps speed up intestinal transit, according to research published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. Its regular consumption helps prevent constipation.

In addition, quinoa has essential micronutrients inside. Among them, iron stands out. However, we must take into account that the presence of fiber can limit its absorption, which is no longer excessively high because it’s non-heme iron.

To dampen this phenomenon, it’s best to combine the product with some other food that contains vitamin C, such as spinach, which we mentioned above.

This way, we can ensure an optimal nutritional contribution by a high-quality pseudocereal that should be part of almost any healthy diet. Although it’s still novel for many, its intake is spreading increasingly across Western countries.

Lentils

Legumes are foods that stand out for the presence of micronutrients inside. Lentils, in particular, are a source of iron. In fact, experts suggest the consumption of products from this group on a weekly basis, either in stews or in cold dishes such as salads.

However, theyre foods that are high in fiber that can cause digestive problems in some people. These are accentuated if there’s a latent dysbiosis process, or if the profile of the microbiota isn’t adequate. Even so, there are tricks to mitigate this effect, such as simmering them for a long time so that the fibers soften.

In addition, it’s important to note that part of the iron in lentils may not be absorbed due to the presence of fiber in the bolus. In this case, including a source of vitamin C is once again recommended. An example would be carrots, which are usually a vegetable that accompanies lentils on a regular basis.

Iron in vegan diets

Iron in vegan diets is often in short supply.
One of the main problems with vegan diets is that iron isn’t of the best quality, at least in terms of its absorption.

According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vegan diets can be lacking in iron. Especially due to the issue of the mineral absorption problems when it comes from plant foods.

In this case, vegans usually need to monitor their intake and levels of this nutrient from time to time. Taking a supplement to avoid deficiencies in the medium term can even be advantageous. It’s best to consult with a nutritionist to assess the possibility of including an iron reinforcement, as well as the dosage of the chosen product.

Eat foods that are rich in iron to avoid illnesses in the medium term

It’s important to guarantee the consumption of iron in the diet to avoid the development of complex pathologies in the medium term, such as anemia. This causes extreme fatigue and can reduce the quality of life and well-being of those who suffer from it. Treatment of anemia can also take quite a long time, so it’s better to opt for good prevention.

If you frequently include the aforementioned foods that are rich in iron in your diet, you’re unlikely to suffer from such a problem. However, a varied diet is always recommended, as the more products that are part of the weekly routine, the less likely you are to experience deficits.

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