Iron is one of the most important elements for life; it is a macro element, that is, one of the minerals present in the body in higher quantities. We could not live without it; in fact Iron is a fundamental component of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and myoglobin, the protein that supplies oxygen to muscles. Moreover, this mineral also participates in the activity of many enzymes and the body needs it to produce some hormones and connective tissue.
Iron deficiency leads to so-called sideropenic anemia, which can lead to a general weakening of the body, negatively affecting immune systems, thermoregulation, brain neurotransmission, as well as hair and nail growth. The absorption of iron is modulated by some factors including the chemical form and content of Fe in food, its availability in the intestine, the presence of other dietary components taken as phytates and polyphenols.
Foods that contain iron
As Dr. Manuela Pastore, a dietitian of Humanitas, points out, intervening on the diet and consuming foods that contain iron before resorting to supplements may solve iron deficiency in the body. In food, iron can be found as emic iron (contained in food of animal origin), which is absorbed quickly and in high percentages, and non-emic iron (contained in plants), whose absorption is equivalent to about 10% of the content of the food. Vitamin C improves iron absorption: it is a good habit to add lemon juice to foods including vegetables or add it to the water that accompanies the meal, to facilitate the transformation of iron at the gastric level in the most absorbable form.
Food of animal origin
The food of animal origin richest in iron is the liver and offal in general, rich in cholesterol and therefore not recommended in the diet of those suffering from dyslipidemia or cardiovascular disease.
Beef, horse meat and guinea fowl meat, as well as chicken, turkey, lamb and pork are the richest foods in iron that can be easily absorbed by the body.
Moreover, mollusks and crustaceans, anchovies and cod, as well as redfish, red seabream, sardines, sea bass, trout and tuna are also rich in iron.
All these foods, in addition to the protein and vitamin intake, provide a good dose of iron that can be easily absorbed.
Food of plant origin
Besides being rich in protein, beans, chickpeas, lentils and lupins are a good source of iron, although they are in a form that is not very absorbable. Raw pumpkin seeds, quinoa and dark chocolate are also rich in iron.
However, it should be kept in mind that in foods of vegetable origin there are substances such as phytates and oxalates that further prevent an adequate absorption of iron: this is the case for cocoa, whole grains, spinach and legumes.
Bread, pasta and cereals (wheat, rice, maize, barley, oats, rye, barley) provide good quantities of vitamins and minerals, including iron.
Vegetables and fruit
The green leafy vegetables such as spinach, beets, chicory and lettuce are particularly rich in iron. Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and cabbage contain iron, but they are mainly rich in vitamin C, useful for its absorption. Other vitamin C-rich fruits, such as citrus fruits, currants, grape juice, dried grapes, and kiwi, are essential in the diet to facilitate iron absorption. The consumption of fresh citrus fruit juices and the use of lemon juice as a condiment for salads, fish and meat is highly recommended by dietitians.
Hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds and, above all, walnuts, as well as other important properties, contain iron. Tofu (soya derivative) is also a great source of protein and iron.
Beware of some foods
It is important to know that some foods should not be consumed together with foods that are rich in iron, as they may hinder its absorption. Dairy products in particular, due to their high calcium content, chocolate, tea and coffee should be consumed away from meals.