- Iron is a mineral that helps build red blood cells.
- Good sources of iron include red meat, eggs, poultry, fish, legumes (or beans), and fortified cereals.
- If you don't have enough iron, you can become anemic.
What is iron and why is it important?
Iron is a mineral that helps build red blood cells. Most importantly, iron helps your blood cells carry the oxygen that is needed for energy. Getting the right amount of iron can improve your performance in sports and in school.
Iron is an important nutrient for teens, especially for those who have started menstruating. Vegetarians also need to pay extra attention to make sure they get enough iron.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a condition that occurs when you don't have enough healthy red blood cells. This is a problem, because without the right amount of healthy red blood cells, enough oxygen doesn't get into your body. This causes people with anemia to look pale, and often feel weak and tired. The most common causes are not getting enough iron or losing too much iron from heavy menstrual periods. Your health care provider may recommend a multivitamin with iron if it seems like you are not getting enough iron from foods. If you are already anemic, your health care provider will probably suggest an iron supplement.
How much iron do I need?
Iron is measured in milligrams. The amount you need depends on your age, gender, body size, and lifestyle. In general, though, you can use these guidelines to determine how much iron you need.
- Girls age 9-13: 8 mg/day
- Girls age 14-18: 15 mg/day
What foods are rich in iron?
Good sources of iron include red meat, eggs, poultry, fish, legumes (or beans), and fortified cereals. It is important to know that your body absorbs iron from animal sources (known as “heme” iron) more easily than it absorbs iron from plant sources (known as “non-heme” iron). The following table lists some foods that are good sources of iron.
|Food||Serving Size||Iron (mg)|
|Beans and Peas|
|Baked beans, without pork||½ cup||1.5|
|Chick peas||½ cup||2.4|
|Red beans||½ cup||2.6|
|White beans||½ cup||2.5|
|Cinnamon Life®||¾ cup||7.4|
|Frosted Miniwheats®||1 cup||15.4|
|Rice Krispies®||1¼ cup||11.4|
|Whole Grain Total®||¾ cup||22.4|
|Apricots||4 large halves||0.4|
|Meat, Poultry and Fish|
|Beef liver, cooked*||3 ounces||5.8|
|Pork, cooked*||3 ounces||0.9|
|Salmon, canned*||3 ounces||0.7|
|Sirloin, cooked*||3 ounces||2.9|
|Turkey, light meat, roasted*||3 ounces||1.6|
|Veal, cooked*||3 ounces||0.9|
|Almonds, whole, unblanched||½ cup||3.1|
|Prune juice||½ cup||1.5|
|Spinach, boiled||½ cup||3.2|
|* Source of heme iron|
- Foods high in vitamin C help your body absorb non-heme iron. Eat iron-rich foods along with foods that are high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and juices, cantaloupe, strawberries, tomatoes, and dark green vegetables to increase the amount of iron you absorb. For example, top your cereal with strawberries, add tomato slices to a turkey sandwich, or have an orange with a peanut butter sandwich.
- If you take a calcium supplement, try not to take it at the same time as your iron supplement because your body absorbs these nutrients better when they are taken separately.
- Don't take an iron supplement with caffeinated drink such as cola or coffee. Caffeine can interfere with iron absorption.
- Choose breads, cereals, and pastas that say “enriched” or “iron-fortified” on the label. These foods have extra iron that can really boost your intake.
Remember: Try to include iron-rich foods in your day to keep your body healthy and prevent anemia.
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