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Beef as a source of Iron
Ralph Teller

Natural Dietary Food Sources of Iron
by Ralph Teller


List of Natural Food Sources of Iron

Iron like other nutrient needs should be met primarily NATURALLY through consuming foods rich in Iron. Foods provide an array of nutrients and other compounds that may have beneficial effects on health. Certain foods aid in the absorption of Iron and others lessen Iron absorption. But first, there are two main types of Iron.

Heme Iron and Nonheme Iron. Iron is found in both animal and plant foods, but in different forms. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells and is found in beef and turkey. Nonheme Iron is found in plant foods such as lentils and beans and has a different chemical structure than heme Iron. Heme Iron is absorbed better than nonheme Iron.

Food Sources of HEME IRON from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Natural Sources of Heme Iron

Food Sources of NONHEME IRON from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Natural Food Sources of Nonheme Iron

Too Much Iron? It is also possible to have too much iron deposited in the body tissues causing iron overload and a condition called hemochromatosis. Too much Iron can be as detrimental to health causing Iron toxicity because very little iron is excreted from the body. It is important for anyone who is considering taking an iron supplement to first consider whether their needs are being met by natural dietary sources of heme and nonheme iron and foods fortified with iron, and to discuss their potential need for iron supplements with their physician. Too much Iron can result in serious damage to the body's tissues, including cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure, diabetes, abdominal pain, and arthritis.

See Iron, Health and Peak Performance.

Recommended Dietary Allowance

Recommended Diet Allow for Iron

Iron Absorption

Which Foods Help the Body Absorb Iron? Vitamin C rich foods aid in Iron absorption. Here is a list of foods rich in Vitamin C: Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits) Strawberries, Bell peppers (green and red), Juices fortified with Vitamin C, Kiwi, Chili peppers, Tomotoes, Kale and Cilantro.

Which Foods Inhibit Iron Absorption? Also note that the absorption of Iron is inhibited by tannins found in tea and coffee, food additives such as phosphates found in soft drinks and certain preservatives.

Vegetarian Considerations. Vegetarians who exclude all animal products from their diet may need almost twice as much dietary iron each day as non-vegetarians because of the lower intestinal absorption of nonheme iron in plant foods.

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Articles on Iron, Health and Athletics

PublicationDietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron , National Institute of Health

PublicationThe Crucial Role of Iron in the Body, Washington University in St. Louis

Hemoglobin and the Heme Group: Metal Complexes in the Blood for Oxygen Transport, Washington University in St. Louis

PublicationIron Deficiency,Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

PublicationEnergy for the Body,Washington University in St. Louis

PublicationThe Iron Story,Dr. Mark A. Jenkins, Rice University

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