Eating foods high in iron can help to maintain proper levels in the bloodstream to ensure good health. Most of the top iron-rich foods come from animal origin, such as red meat, fish, liver, and kidneys, for example. Turkey or chicken giblets, egg yolks, and mollusks are also foods that are high in iron. There’s good news for vegetarians, too, as dark, leafy greens, raisins and other dried fruits, and beans and lentils are good iron food sources as well. Even carbohydrate lovers can reach for iron enriched cereals and grains.
There are actually two kinds of iron: heme and non-heme. Iron-rich foods with heme iron belong mostly to the meat food group. Beef, shrimp, and oysters are good examples. Non-heme iron can be found in vegetable and other sources, primarily pumpkin seeds, baked potatoes with skins, and enriched pasta. Sea vegetables contain the highest amounts of iron, but Swiss chard, turnip greens, and sweet potatoes are also significant sources. Nuts are another category of iron-rich foods, with almonds and cashews topping the list.
Iron fosters the production of hemoglobin and myoglobin, ensuring that red blood cells carry oxygen efficiently to muscles and other tissues throughout the body. Good levels of iron support the immune system, facilitate the metabolism, and can even promote weight loss. Getting enough iron is vital to a healthy diet.
Simply consuming iron-rich foods is not always enough to achieve proper iron levels. Iron needs to be absorbed into the body before it can do its work. Eating foods with heme iron, which absorbs more readily than its pair, together with non-heme iron in the same meal can accelerate the process for both types of iron, as can adding foods high in vitamin C, like tomatoes or citrus. On the other hand, drinking tea or coffee — or anything containing caffeine — with a meal can diminish iron absorption. Cooking some foods, such as raw spinach, can block absorption too.
A lack of iron in the diet may lead to an iron deficiency and ultimately anemia. Women, especially pregnant women, and children seem to be most susceptible to low levels of iron in the blood. When anemic, the body can't produce sufficient hemoglobin. There are fewer and smaller red blood cells to carry vital oxygen to all the body's systems, and so the condition causes fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath. In children, it can even cause learning problems. Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world.