The importance of dietary iron in health
When it comes to essential minerals, which means minerals that you must obtain through the diet, iron is a very important one. It plays a vital role in helping the red blood cell protein, hemoglobin, carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues all over the body. (1) Its functions across the body include aiding:
-nervous system development
Iron is also stored in small amounts in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. (1)
Heme iron vs non-heme iron
In the diet, there are two forms of iron, heme and non-heme. While they are both useful, heme iron tends to be more bioavailable for the human digestive process. (2)
Heme iron can be found in animal proteins, such as meats, seafood, and poultry where some non-heme iron also resides.
Plant-based and iron-fortified sources of iron contain the non-heme variety. Some examples of these would be whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, and leafy greens.
Symptoms and impact of iron deficiency
Iron deficiency can be quite common in North America as it is often associated with imbalanced nutrition, disorders that reduce digestion, and blood loss. It is typically found with other nutrient deficiencies. Young children and pregnant women are some of the more susceptible to iron deficiency. (3)
Iron deficiency is often associated with a type of anemia, which is a condition where there is a lack of adequate healthy red blood cells in the blood. As mentioned above, red blood cells carry oxygen around the body with the help of iron, therefore not having enough iron can cause reduced oxygenation to tissues and organs, as well as low healthy red blood cell count.
Common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:
-very low energy
-paleness in complexion
-shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat
-brittle hair and nails
3 ways to increase absorption of iron
Because iron is only acquired through the diet, your nutrition choices can play a huge factor in helping you intake adequate levels of this mineral. However, as I discuss often on the R’s KOSO blog, what you eat is only half of the nutrition equation. The other half is how your body is able to use it.
So, in addition to incorporating sources of heme and non-heme iron from the food sources I provided above, there are 3 ways to increase the absorption and usage of iron:
１、Vitamin C helps the absorption of non-heme iron! Ascorbic acid is the scientific name for Vitamin C and studies have shown that eating a source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or leafy greens, with your non-heme iron sources can increase the absorption of iron! (4)
Other sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
２、A study done on the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia in the Venezuelan population found that the presence of vitamin A in meals helped to boost the absorption of iron by 80% to 200% for grains such as rice, wheat, and corn! (5)
Vitamin A and its precursor nutrient, beta-carotene, are found in orange and red colored plants, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, oranges, as well as kale, spinach, and squashes. (5)
３、Short-chain fatty acids help with the absorption of iron, too. And these fatty acids are products of the gut bacteria that are found in our colon! In fact, the colon could be a significant point of iron absorption! (6)
R’s KOSO can help to replenish and proliferate the gut flora in this part of the Gastrointestinal Tract, which maintains the production of short-chain fatty acids and promotes iron bioavailability for uptake.
This is because R’s KOSO is a fermented food rich in probiotics and prebiotics that offer nutrients and bacteria to promote optimal gut flora.
Keren Chen | CBT Nutritionist
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Original Photo by @_saki_yamamoto_
Aggett PJ. Iron. In: Erdman JW, Macdonald IA, Zeisel SH, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012:506-20.