Iron and Your Health


Iron is a mineral that the body needs for growth and development1. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein found in red blood cells and is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the body2. Additionally, Iron is required to make myoglobin. Myoglobin is the protein that provides oxygen to the muscles3. In summary, Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to the muscles and the brain. It is essential for your mental and physical performance. Having enough iron in your diet can improve your energy levels, mental focus, immune system, and help improve your gastrointestinal processes.

Iron Deficiency

Insufficient iron levels lead to iron deficient anemia4. This is a condition where the blood does not contain enough healthy red blood cells. When there isn’t enough iron in your bloodstream, the rest of your body cannot get the oxygen it requires. The symptoms of iron deficiency are extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, cold hands or feet, and brittle nails5.

Iron Rich Foods

There are two types of iron found within foods: heme and nonheme iron. Foods high in heme iron are red meat, fish, and poultry. Your body absorbs up to 30 percent of the heme iron your consume6. Therefore, eating foods that contain heme iron is generally more effective for increasing iron levels than eating foods that contain non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in plant based foods life fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Your body absorbs between two and 10 percent of non-heme iron ingested6.

Foods that contain Heme Iron:

beef steak with fork
  1. Beef
  2. Lamb
  3. Ham
  4. Turkey
  1. Veal
  2. Pork
  3. Liver
  4. Eggs

Foods that contain non-heme Iron:

green leafed plant
  1. Spinach
  2. Sweet potatoes
  3. Peas
  4. Broccoli
  5. String beans
  6. Beet greens
  7. Kale
  8. Strawberries
  9. Beans

Recommended Daily Iron Intake

The amount of iron required changes throughout one’s life. For example, the amount of blood increases in a woman’s body during pregnancy7. Therefore, she needs for iron for herself and her growing baby. Iron deficiency within infancy leads to delayed psychological and social development8. Additionally, iron deficiency has been shown to impact a child’s ability to pay attention9. The following table highlights the recommended amounts of iron intake for each stage of life10:

Life StageRecommended Amount
Birth to 6 months0.27 mg
Infants 7-12 months11 mg
Children 1-3 years7 mg
Children 4-8 years10 mg
Children 9-138 mg
Teens boys 14-1811 mg
Teens girls 14-1815 mg
Adult men 19-508 mg
Adults 51 years and older8 mg
Pregnant teens27 mg
Pregnant women27 mg
Breastfeeding teens10 mg
Breastfeeding women9 mg


  1. Ryan AS. Iron-deficiency anemia in infant development: Implications for growth, cognitive development, resistance to infection, and iron supplementation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 1997;104(S25):25-62. doi:10.1002/(sici)1096-8644(1997)25+<25::aid-ajpa2>;2-6
  2. Hemoglobin and Canadian Blood Services. Published 2020. Accessed December 22, 2020.
  3. Vanek T, Arpan Kohli. Biochemistry, Myoglobin. Published July 26, 2020. Accessed December 22, 2020.
  4. Iron-Deficiency Anemia | NHLBI, NIH. Published January 18, 2019. Accessed December 22, 2020.
  5. Miller JL. Iron Deficiency Anemia: A Common and Curable Disease. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine. 2013;3(7):a011866-a011866. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a011866
  6. Iron-Rich Foods. Published 2020. Accessed December 22, 2020.
  7. Abu-Ouf N, Jan M. The impact of maternal iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia on child’s health. Saudi Medical Journal. 2015;36(2):146-149. doi:10.15537/smj.2015.2.10289
  8. Kim J, Wessling-Resnick M. Iron and mechanisms of emotional behavior. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2014;25(11):1101-1107. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2014.07.003
  9. Mahajan G, Sikka M, Rusia U, Bhatia MS. Iron Profile in Children with Behavioural Disorders: A Prospective Study in a Tertiary Care Hospital in North India. Indian Journal of Hematology and Blood Transfusion. 2011;27(2):75-80. doi:10.1007/s12288-011-0061-7
  10. Office of Dietary Supplements – Iron. Published 2017. Accessed December 22, 2020.,that%20provides%20oxygen%20to%20muscles.

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