Iron is a very important mineral that is needed by our body to carry out many different functions. But if our diet lacks iron, then it results in iron deficiency and anaemia. This can make us feel tired and fatigued most of the time. Nowadays, low iron levels or iron deficiency is a very common nutritional deficiency of the world. It is mainly prevalent in children and women during their childbearing years. Women are at a greater risk of developing iron deficiency in their body mainly due to blood loss during menstruation. However, if we include more of iron rich foods to our diet, we can prevent the symptoms of weakness and tiredness and also prevent all health complications arising due to iron deficiency.
Role of iron in our body
Before we get to know about the iron rich foods, it is important to understand the role of iron in our body. Iron promotes the production of red blood cells in our body which helps to strengthen our body’s immunity. It is present as hemoglobin in red blood cells which carries oxygen in blood from the lungs to different parts of our body. In the muscles, it is present in the form of myoglobin. They help to store oxygen that can be used by our body and also help to improve muscle strength.
Recommended daily allowance of iron
The daily average requirement if iron primarily depends on gender and age. Men and menopausal women need to consume 8 mg iron per day. On the other hand, premenopausal women should consume 18 mg iron per day and pregnant women should consume 35 mg iron per day.
Types of iron present in foods
The different foods can provide our body with two different types of iron. One is the heme iron and the other is the non-heme iron. Heme iron is the best form of iron and is generally found in animal foods. These include poultry, meat and fish. This type of iron can be readily absorbed by up to 40% in our body making it easy to increase the iron levels. Non-heme iron mainly comes from the plant sources and is found in grains and vegetables. But this form of iron is less efficiently absorbed in our body than the heme iron.
Best iron rich foods for vegetarians
There are many animal based foods that are rich in iron and that can increase iron levels efficiently. But vegetarians have only few options and iron absorption with a vegetarian diet is low. However, the good news is that even with plant based foods, vegetarians can meet their daily iron requirements and good amounts of iron can be provided to their body. Below is a list of the different plant foods that can improve our overall intake:
1. Whole grains
Whole grains such as millets, oats and quinoa are good sources of iron. 100 g of millets contain 3 mg of iron, 100 g of oats contain 4.7 mg iron and 1 cup of quinoa contains 3 mg iron. So, you should include more of whole grains in your diet over the processed grains. The processed grains during their processing lose a lot of vitamins and minerals which make them less in nutrition.
One serving of cooked legumes can provide 5 mg of iron which is 28% of the recommended daily intake (RDI). So, all legumes are good food options to be included in our daily diet to maintain iron levels in our body. These include beans, lentils, chickpeas, soyabean, dals etc. In addition to being rich in iron, legumes are rich in fiber. This helps to keep our gut healthy and stabilize our blood sugar levels.
Nuts like almonds, cashew nuts, pine nuts and pistachios in their raw form are very good sources of iron. 100 g of almonds contain 5.4 mg of iron, 100 g of cashew nuts contain 6.7 mg iron, 100 g pine nuts contain 5.5 mg iron and 100 g of pistachios contain 3.9 mg of iron. Other than that they are rich in proteins, good fats and different vitamins and minerals which are good for us. However, one thing to keep in mind is that cashew nuts must be eaten in moderate amounts otherwise they can be detrimental to our health.
Seeds may appear to be small but they contain lots of iron. The seeds that are rich in iron are the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and flaxseeds. 100 g of pumpkin seeds contain 3.3 mg iron, 100 g sesame seeds contain 14.6 mg iron whereas 100 mg flaxseeds contain 5.6 mg iron. Besides being rich in iron, seeds are rich in folate, good fats, minerals and phytosterols which provide many health benefits when eaten regularly.
Tofu is derived from soybeans and is quite popular among vegetarians. They are packed with iron and half cup of tofu contains 3.4 mg of iron. This is 19% of the recommended daily intake. In addition to iron, it is a good source of proteins with all the essential amino acids and different vitamins and minerals. The consumption of tofu can also reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
6. Dried fruits
Dried fruits like prunes, dried apricots, dates and raisins are rich in iron and consuming them daily can help to fight iron deficiency. 100 g prunes contain 0.93 mg iron, 100 g apricots contain 6.3 mg iron, 100 g raisins contain 2.6 mg iron and 100 g dates contain 5 mg iron. Dried fruits are also rich in antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals due to which they are good for our digestion and overall health.
7. Green vegetables
It is important for all of us to include green vegetables in our diet such as spinach, kale, asparagus and broccoli as every serving of these vegetables in cooked form can provide 1.0-6.4 mg of iron. This is 5-36% of the recommended daily intake. These green vegetables also contain good amounts of Vitamin C which allows for better absorption of iron in our body and can give us an energy boost.
Beetroots are a great source of iron and Vitamin C which allows for enhanced iron absorption in our body. Iron absorption from beetroots is much higher than that from green vegetables. 100 g of beetroots contains 0.8 mg of iron which is 5% of the recommended daily intake. Other than iron, beetroots have many other nutritional benefits too.
Certain varieties of mushrooms like the white button mushrooms and oyster mushrooms are rich sources of iron. One cooked cup of these mushrooms provide 2.7 mg of iron which is 15% of the recommended daily intake. Mushrooms are also rich in B vitamins and selenium that is a powerful antioxidant which helps to prevent cell and tissue damage.
Including more of iron rich foods in our daily diet is one of the best way to prevent or combat iron deficiency. However, if we avoid these foods it can lead to deficiency of iron in our body leading to anaemia which can contribute to many issues in our body.
Including more of iron rich foods in our daily diet is one of the best way to prevent or combat iron deficiency. However, if we avoid these foods it can lead to deficiency of iron in our body leading to anaemia which can contribute to many issues in our body. So, what are these iron rich foods? Read to know about them.