The body cannot produce iron itself – the essential trace element must be supplied through food. Foods containing iron should therefore be on the menu every day.
What function does iron fulfill in the body?
Iron is vital because, among other things, it enables oxygen to be absorbed and transported in the blood. In addition, the trace element is required for the synthesis of many hormones, enzymes and blood formation.
The antioxidant effect of iron protects the cells from exposure to radicals and strengthens the immune system. A large part (60%) is bound to the red blood pigment, hemoglobin. In addition, part is stored in the storage form ferritin in the liver, spleen and bone marrow
Iron deficiency, what to do?
If iron deficiency occurs, symptoms such as dry skin, brittle nails and cracked corners of the mouth initially appear. Those affected also struggle with fatigue, shortness of breath and headaches. Advanced iron deficiency anemia (anemia) can have irreversible, serious consequences. Growth can be delayed and intelligence development disrupted, especially during the development phase. A blood test by a doctor can make a diagnosis based on the number of red blood cells (Hb value).
Iron deficiency can occur due to blood loss, chronic diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, operations or after blood donation. Taking medication or having celiac disease can also limit iron absorption in the intestines. However, one of the most common causes is an unhealthy lifestyle. Therefore, treatment by incorporating iron-rich foods into the diet is beneficial.
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Iron requirements: How much iron per day?
A sufficient supply of iron is important for everyone. How much iron you should consume per day depends on various factors. Heme iron from meat, with better bioavailability, is absorbed by the intestine to around 20-30 percent, and plant-based iron sources are only absorbed to 1-10 percent. The values fluctuate, pregnancy or empty iron stores increase the absorption rate. The rest is excreted in the stool.
Particular risk groups for deficiency symptoms are:
- Growing children and adolescents, because iron plays a crucial role in the differentiation of cells.
- Women of childbearing age also have an increased daily iron requirement due to menstruation.
- Even during pregnancy and breastfeeding, there should be enough foods with iron on the menu.
Recommended intake per day (DGE reference values) ( 1 ):
- Children (4 months to 10 years): 8-10 mg
- Male from 10, <19: 12 mg
- Male from 19, female from menopause: 10 mg
- Female from 10 (menstrual period): 15 mg
- Breastfeeding: 20 mg
- Pregnant women: 30 mg
Foods containing iron: Which foods contain iron?
Meat, fish and dairy products
Healthy food is essential. The body can utilize iron from animal products more easily. Expert Silke Hölzer from the Nutrition Advice Center in Hamburg explains: “ Beef has a particularly high iron content. But vegetables such as beetroot, legumes or whole grains and fish also replenish the body’s stores.” However, frequent consumption of red meat is not recommended. However, the conscious consumption of lean poultry meat is a good supplement to remedy an iron deficiency. Although dairy products are rich in calcium, they are also considered iron absorption inhibitors.
Plant-based diet: Vegetables and fruits with lots of iron
To prevent iron deficiency as a vegetarian or vegan or to optimize your diet if you have iron deficiency, experts recommend eating a number of specific foods. Green leafy vegetables, but also white cabbage and seeds such as sesame contain a particularly high amount of iron. Pumpkin seeds are even considered the best choice because just a handful provides a large portion of the iron needed every day – 100 grams of seeds contain around 12 milligrams of iron.
Oatmeal and millet replenish the iron stores in the body. Legumes and whole grains are also good sources of iron, but they contain phytic acid, which slows down absorption. Tip: The inhibitor content can be reduced by sprouting, roasting or soaking. Herbs refine the taste of a dish and the iron content in parsley or dandelion should not be underestimated. To promote absorption, plant-based foods containing iron should be combined with sources of vitamin C.
This nutritional tip is particularly important for vegetarians/vegans: You should avoid coffee or green and black tea after meals . The tannin in the drinks inhibits the absorption of iron, as do phosphates and oxalic acid. These are found in rhubarb, spinach or cocoa. According to Hölzer, anyone who suffers from severe iron deficiency should initially avoid these products completely. Those affected who take tablets would also have to pay attention to the time between taking medication and consuming certain foods such as dairy products.
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