Iron Deficiency Affect Over 2 Billion People Worldwide: How To Increase Your Iron Intake Through Diet
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world, affecting more than 2 billion people. Iron deficiency can lead to serious health problems. For example, a lack of iron in the body can lead to decreased production of red blood cells (RBCs) and cause iron deficiency anemia.
In an exclusive interaction with TheHealthSite, Kavita Devgan, Nutritionist for Tata Salt Iron Health, explains the importance of iron for human health and how to meet the daily iron requirement through diet.
Q. Can you explain the importance of iron in our diet and how it affects our health?
Iron is an essential element with important functions such as oxygen transport, immune function, and muscle metabolism, and iron deficiency can lead to serious health problems, potentially leading to iron deficiency anemia, weakness, and fatigue. Therefore, adequate dietary iron intake is necessary to maintain normal health.
Iron contributes to the normal formation of red blood cells, and red blood cells make up about 70 percent of the body’s iron. Iron is found in every cell in the body and is a critical component of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body to the lungs, tissues, brain and muscles. Additionally, iron plays an important role in enhancing cognition, making it an important mineral for growing children.
Q. What are the common sources of iron that can be easily incorporated into our diets?
Include common sources of iron like peanuts and spinach on your plate regularly. Fresh fruit and figs also have iron, as do dried varieties of raisins, apricots, dates.
Q. Can a vegetarian or vegan diet provide enough iron without supplements?
Iron is found in foods in two forms: heme and non-heme. The way our bodies absorb these two types of iron is different. Heme iron, which is found in animal products such as meat, fish and poultry, is well absorbed and utilized by the body. On the other hand, non-heme iron found in plant sources such as vegetables, grains, fortified foods, and dietary supplements (eg, eggs, tofu, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, and iron-fortified grains ) is not well received.
Because of this, people who eat a vegetarian diet, even if it includes dairy and eggs, are at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia compared to people who consume meat.
Q. What are some common symptoms of iron deficiency?
Common symptoms of iron deficiency are:
- Inexplicable fatigue and general weakness
- sensitivity to cold
Q Can you offer some tips and advice for people looking to increase their iron intake through their diet?
One can opt for iron fortified/fortified food products as a simple and efficient solution to iron deficiency. For example, you can opt for iron-fortified salt from a reputable brand that offers a salt blend that provides 25 percent of your daily iron needs, which is equivalent to the iron in a bowl of spinach.
If you’re getting iron primarily from non-heme plant sources, it’s important to be strategic.
Here are some tips:
- Combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods to improve iron absorption. For example, treat yourself to a green smoothie made from spinach and orange juice, or combine beans and lentils with tomatoes.
- Cook spinach because it contains oxalates, which can block iron absorption.
- Eat baked potatoes with their skins on, as the iron content is minimal without the skin on.
- Include tofu, seeds (like pumpkin and sunflower seeds), dried fruits (like raisins and apricots), and nuts (like cashews, almonds, and pistachios) in your diet as they are good sources of iron.
- Make sure you get enough vitamin C as it helps the body absorb iron better. Eat foods rich in vitamin C like broccoli, peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, papaya, cauliflower and aim for one amla (gooseberry) a day.
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