Iron in the diet
The recommended daily allowance of iron for men is 11 mg and the recommended daily allowance of iron for women is 15 mg. The recommended daily allowance of iron for pregnant women is raised to 27 mg.
Where can iron be obtained in the diet?
Good animal sources for iron include red meat, seafood, and fish. Some other good sources of iron include ready-to-eat cereals with added iron; enriched and whole grain breads; lean meats; turkey dark meat; shellfish; and cooked dry beans, peas, and lentils. While iron is found in spinach, broccoli, beans, and seeds in significant amounts, iron from plant sources is not as well absorbed as that from animal sources.
Iron's role in the body
Iron's main function in the body is to carry oxygen to the muscles and other body tissues. Two-thirds of the body's iron is found in hemoglobin which is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body tissues. Iron is also necessary for the production of energy, the synthesis of collagen, and the healthy functioning of the immune system.
Results of an iron deficiency in the diet
The terms iron deficiency, and iron deficiency anemia often are used interchangeably but are not equivalent. Iron deficiency may have an entire range of severity. Iron deficiency ranges from depleted iron stores without functional or health impairment, to iron deficiency with anemia. Iron deficiency with anemia affects the functioning of several of the body's organ systems. Iron deficiency anemia is more likely to cause preterm births, low birth weight, and delays in infant and child development. Iron deficiency (with and without anemia) in adolescent females has been associated with decreased verbal learning and memory.
Iron deficiency is highest among toddlers and among certain racial, ethnic, and low-income children. Iron deficiency can be prevented among young children by making families aware of child nutrition, including promoting breastfeeding of infants, with exclusive breastfeeding for 4 to 6 months; the use of iron-fortified formulas when formulas are used; delayed introduction of cow's milk until age 12 months; and age-appropriate introduction of iron-rich solid foods, such as iron-fortified infant cereals and pureed meats, and foods that enhance iron absorption such as vitamin C-rich fruits, vegetables, or juices.
Nonpregnant women of childbearing age are at increased risk for iron deficiency because of iron loss during menstruation coupled with inadequate intake of iron. Pregnant women are also at increased risk because of the increased iron requirements of pregnancy. National data indicate that only one-fourth of all women of childbearing age (12 to 49 years) meet the U.S. recommended dietary allowance for iron (15 mg) through their diets.
Results of iron toxicity in the diet
A large intake of iron over a long period of time could cause liver disease or irregular heart beats (arrhythmias).