“Health is Wealth”, is an age old saying and we learn the true importance of it as we grow up. When we do not eat nutritious food, deficiency of nutrients occur leading to a host of symptoms in the body. A common deficiency which most people face today is the deficiency of iron. Iron is an important nutrient for the body and we can improve our health by including iron rich foods. Let us understand the importance of iron and why it is important for our body.
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What is Iron and Why is it Necessary?
Iron is known to be an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in many functions related to the body. An iron-deficient diet can lead to shortness of breath, headaches, low energy levels, dizziness, and anemia.
The recommended daily intake of iron is 18 mg per day on average. Although, this requirement will definitely vary from individual to individual depending upon the age, health condition, gender as well as life stage. For example, adolescent girls need 35mgs of iron to cover growth and menstrual losses whereas a lactating mother needs 21 mgs of iron per day.
Iron can be found in two forms when it comes to food, namely heme and non-heme. Heme iron is primarily found in animal products, whereas non-heme is not properly absorbed by the body and needs vitamin C for optimum absorption.
It is observed that non-heme iron is not easily absorbed by our body than heme iron, thus the RDI for vegetarians and vegans is 1.8 times higher than it is for the meat-eaters. If you are vegetarian and are looking for food rich in iron here are 12 food items which are filled with iron and will fight your iron deficiencies.
Iron Rich Food Items
Soybeans and foods which are derived from soybeans like tofu, natto, and tempeh are known to be rich in iron. One cup of soybeans contains 8.8 mg of iron or 49% of the total RDI. Natto is a fermented soybean product that offers 15mg of iron. Similarly, 170 grams of tofu and tempeh offer around 20% of the RDI of iron. Along with iron, soybeans and soy products are also rich in protein and are also a good source of magnesium, calcium and phosphorous.
Lentils are known to be another iron-rich food that provide 6.6 mg of iron per cup. This constitutes around 37% of the recommended daily intake of iron. Lentils are great to include in your diet as they also provide a significant amount of protein, complex carbs as well as fiber.
3. Beans and Peas
Other than soybeans and lentils, red kidney beans, white beans, lima beans as well as navy beans are good sources of iron. These beans offer around 4.4-6.6 mg of iron per cup of cooked beans. Along with these beans, chickpeas and black-eyed peas are also rich in iron. They provide around 4.6-5.2 mg per cooked cup. Along with iron, beans and peas are splendid sources for potassium, manganese, folate and many other plant compounds that are beneficial for the body. Consuming beans and peas also helps to solve problems related to blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
4. Sesame, Pumpkin, Hemp, Flax and Garden Cress Seeds
Seeds are also great when it comes to consuming vital body nutrients. The seeds of pumpkin, sesame, hemp as well as flax are plentiful when it comes to iron. They contain around 1.2-4.2 mg per two tablespoons which comprises around 7–23% of the RDI. Garden cress seeds are a rich source of iron as well as vitamin C and folic acid. Products like tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds) contain around 2.6 mg of iron. Similar is the case with hummus which is a paste made from chickpeas. Seeds contain a significant amount of plant protein, fiber as well as calcium and magnesium. They are also great antioxidants that are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well.
5. Cashews and Pine nuts
Nuts and products derived from nuts like “nut butter” contain some amount of non-heme iron. Non-heme iron can be found in almonds, cashews, pine nuts as well as macadamia which contain iron between 1-1.6 mg per ounce. However, one should keep in mind that these nuts should be consumed raw. Roasting may damage the nutritional value of the nuts. Thus it is best to consume them in their natural form. Nuts also have proven to be a great source of protein, good fats, and vitamins.
6. Green Leafy vegetables
When we talk about iron-rich vegetables, green leafy vegetables are the best source of iron for your body. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, fenugreek, lettuce, dill provide approximately 2.5-6.4 mg of iron which comprises around 14-36% of the RDI. 100 grams of spinach contains 1.1 times more than the same amount of red meat and salmon. Along with iron, leafy vegetables also contain potassium and sodium in high quantities which are essential for the body. Other green vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts which contain 6-10% of the RDI.
Cooking leafy greens with tomatoes or adding lemon will improve the absorption of non heme iron Tomato. Tomatoes when consumed raw don’t contain a significant amount of iron, it is just about 0.5 mg per cup. However, concentrated tomatoes offer a much greater amount of iron.
Thus, products like tomato paste, tomato sauce offer a higher portion of iron. Sun-dried tomatoes are also a significant source of iron. Apart from iron, tomatoes are also a great source for vitamin C which helps in increasing the non-heme iron absorption. They are a great source of lycopene as well.
Potatoes contain a significant amount of iron as it is mostly concentrated in their skins. A large unpeeled potato provides 3.2 mg of iron. Potato skins also have a great flavour and are a treat to your taste buds when cooked with the right spices. Sweet potatoes contain slightly less when compared to normal potatoes. Potatoes are also a great source of fiber as well and cover your daily requirement of vitamin C, B6, and potassium.
There are a lot of varieties of mushrooms that are available for consumption. From these only a selected few varieties have iron in them. One cup of mushrooms contains approx. 2.7 mg of iron. Certain types of mushrooms like the oyster mushrooms or portobello mushrooms contain higher iron content than other types of mushrooms.
Olives are actually a fruit more than a vegetable. They contain a good iron content. Olives contain 3.3 mg of iron per 100 grams. Olives are healthy as they contain other nutrients and vitamins as well like fiber, Vitamin A and E. Consuming olives also helps to reduce risks of encountering heart diseases.
Mulberry is a sweet and sour fruit that has a great nutritional value. Mulberries are full of iron and also contain a good amount of vitamin C which is very necessary for the body. Consuming one cup of mulberries can provide around 2.6 mg of iron per cup.
11. Whole grains
Whole grains like oats, quinoa, hulled wheat, and amaranth are whole grains that are rich in iron. Along with iron, these grains are also rich in fiber which helps the body in digesting them better.
Proper intake of iron is very imperative for a human body as it is directly related to the hemoglobin which creates healthy red blood cells. Lack of iron in the body can lead to many serious illnesses as well as health problems. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is important to keep your body nourished with sufficient iron. Consuming the above-given food items will definitely help in reducing any iron deficiencies which you have, as well help you to maintain the level of iron in your body. Adding these items to your diet will promise a healthy body free of any deficiencies.