Iron is a very important mineral for maintaining the optimal health of human body. The importance of iron lies in the fact that it is the primary mineral responsible for delivering oxygen in haemoglobin of the Red Blood Cells (RBC) to the body cells for energy production.
In addition to delivering oxygen to every single cell of the body, Iron performs a wide array of functions:
- Avoiding Anemia: Anemia is a condition arising from the lack of sufficient RBCs. Hemoglobin, the component that provides red colour to the blood and binds oxygen contains iron. It is this iron in the haemoglobin that binds oxygen and delivers it to all the cells. Body primarily derives iron from the diet that we eat and RBCs. Deficiency of iron in the diet leads to a condition known as Anemia in which insufficient amount of oxygen reaches the cells. As a result of this, symptoms like fatigue, lethargy, brittle nails etc. can arise.
- Immune strength: Iron in the diet is beneficial for the health of T-cells and White Blood Cells (cells that take care of our immunity).
- Muscle Health: According to some researchers, Iron in the diet might help in reducing the fatigue caused in muscles after exercise. Since it carries oxygen it might be helpful in improving muscle function.
Sources of Iron
When we are talking about the sources of Iron, we also need to consider the bio-availability of this nutrient to our body. So in addition to the foods rich in iron, one also needs to consume foods that promote/ enhance iron absorption in human body.
The type of iron one consumes, determines its absorption in body. In food sources, there are two types of iron rich foods – foods which contain Heme iron and non-heme iron sources. Iron from heme sources is better absorbed because it is directly derived from the foods which once contained haemoglobin, usually the animal sources. Non-heme iron sources are those which are derived from plant sources.
- Heme sources of Iron: Red meat, poultry, sea food, beef, beef liver, turkey etc.
- Non-Heme sources: Whole grains, cereals, fortified cereals, pulses and lentils, nuts and oilseeds (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, groundnut, sesame seeds etc.). Since iron from these sources is not very well absorbed , these sources require vitamin C and protein for their effective absorption.
Iron is an essential nutrient for maintaining optimal human health. Though required in small amounts, it caters to a lot of important functions in our body.
Dr. Namita Panagaria is a clinical nutritionist. She is as passionate about nutrition as she is about stemming the flow of health misinformation, in addition to encouraging consultations with those qualified to give advice on nutrition.