Published: 09/12/2012 - Updated: 05/27/2016
Iron is a basic mineral for the proper functioning of the body and it must be present in your diet, but there is a type of iron that should be avoided. Even though our body was perfectly designed to suit the beneficial amounts of this mineral, there is a type of iron that is harmful to our bodies.
The two types of iron that exist
Heme iron: that is natural or organic form in which the iron is included in the diet. This type of iron is available in natural foods such as cereals, vegetables, lentils, beans and other legumes, as well as corn, fish, chicken, seaweed, egg yolk, yeast beer, beef liver, etc. This type of iron is absorbed by the body and can not accumulate, plus it will not oxide when interacting with free radicals. If we include a variety of vegetables, cereals and fish in the diet, this will have a dose of 2mg of iron, enough for the body.
Iron "nonheme": is well known as synthetic iron, i.e. the one that is often added to nutritional supplements or some "iron-fortified" foods as bread, flour, refined cereal, etc. This is the type of iron to be avoided, as this easily accumulate in the body, it's absorbed with difficulty and also increases the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease and cancer. This type of iron can be recognized easily on labels as ferrous gluconate, ferrous sulfate or ferrous fumarate. When we eat foods with these additives, the body absorbs up 20mg of iron, which leads to health problems.
Functions of iron in the body and its proper use
Iron is a mineral that combined with oxygen to produces hemoglobin, a protein responsible for carrying oxygen to our major organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, etc., and every cell and tissue in our body. It also participates in the formation of myoglobin, another protein responsible for carrying oxygen to our muscles.
Besides this important role in oxygen transport, this mineral has other properties, it is essential for the formation of collagen which is a protein found in bone, cartilage and all connective tissues. In addition, it's to found in many enzymes in our body and is essential in pregnancy to increase the amount of blood flow and to nourish the placenta and the new baby.
Is it good to take iron supplements?
That depends on the supplement and the person. To start, check the label if the supplement contains no ferrous additives mentioned before.
Most people do not need an iron supplement, but people with severe physical problems, pregnants, women with prolonged or abundant menstrual flows, people with anemia or with gastrointestinal infections, seniors and some vegetarians or vegans should consider taking an ircon supplement.
Babies who are breastfed should avoid iron supplements, since breast milk contains a very beneficial and digestible iron for the baby. Avoid taking iron supplements if you do not need it. If you are prescribed iron, it's best to get it through a balanced diet or natural products containing iron, such as yeast, seaweed, soy milk, liver extract liquid, etc.
You must also consider that the iron is not absorbed well if you lack enough vitamin C. Therefore, it is good to start the day with some citrus fruit like lemon, orange or grapefruit, which are rich in vitamin C and also help your body to be well refined. You also need enough vitamin A to iron absorption, so we recommend you drink carrot juice daily, or eat broccoli, cantaloupe, peaches, etc.
Consider that foods containing caffeine such as coffee, tea and chocolate interfere with proper absorption of iron.
You need iron if:
- You suffer from fatigue or drowsiness even if you sleep well.
- You feel weak.
- You look pale in your face or under your eyes.
- You are anemic.
- In women, if you have very abundant and prolonged menstruation.
- You do not concentrate well or are constantly grumpy.
- You have diarrhea
If you have doubts about how much iron you should take, you can consult a professional. Remember that exercise is part of a conscious process of nutrition, as physical activity increases the absorption of nutrients in the body.