Iron is an essential mineral that has an important role in human body. One of its main jobs is to deliver oxygen throughout the body. It is the main component of hemoglobin, which is a protein that gives blood its red color. Lack of iron can lead to anemia and other health problems, so it is important to ensure adequate intake of this mineral.
Iron comes in two forms, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in foods of animal origin and it is absorbed by the body in greater amounts than non-heme iron, found in plants.
Proper intake of iron can be achieved through consumption of iron-rich foods, iron supplements and iron-enriched or iron-fortified foods.
Heme iron can be found in foods of animal origin, and the best sources are chicken liver, chicken leg and breast, white and dark turkey meat, beef, beef liver, lamb, and pork.
This type or iron is also found in seafood, especially in oysters, tuna, crabs, clams, trout and halibut.
Fruits and vegetables and other non-animal products contain non-heme iron. This type of iron is not absorbed as much as heme iron, so the intake of these foods should be higher in order to achieve adequate levels of iron in the body. It is also recommended to take them along with sources of vitamin C, because this vitamin enhances the absorption of iron.
Good sources of non-heme iron include beet, spinach, fenugreek, broccoli, collard greens, asparagus, parsley, carrots, watercress, fruits like mango, oranges, papaya, apples, bananas, figs and gooseberries, legumes like beans, lentils and soy beans, tofu, soy milk, and seeds and nuts including cashews, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
It is estimated that, even though there are so many excellent food sources of iron, an average American does not eat enough of them to assure proper daily intake of iron. Iron is particularly important for toddlers and children, so their food is often fortified with iron.
Some of the most popular iron-enriched foods include certain brands of instant oatmeal, ready-made cereals, raisin bran, grits, bread, pastas, cookies, soy sauce, curry powder and other spices, sugar, toddler formulas and orange juice. Manufacturers always specify on the package if a particular food product is iron-fortified, so people who want to increase their iron intake this way should look for such products. The label will also state exactly how much iron can be found in the product, and in most cases the content will meet 30% of the recommended daily value.