Like zinc, magnesium, and potassium, iron is a nutrient your body absolutely requires. Iron helps the body grow normally and stay healthy and is used to make hemoglobin, a critical protein found in red blood cells.  When you have enough iron, your blood cells are strong and carry life-giving oxygen throughout your body. Your metabolism, which relies on oxygen, stays active and you feel stronger and more clear-headed. If you are experiencing an iron deficiency, you may feel weak and experience other chronic symptoms.
Today, many people turn to the convenience of processed foods rather than enjoy a diet of natural, organic foods. When a person eliminates natural nutrition, their body is less likely to receive the full spectrum of nutrients necessary to thrive. Of particular importance is iron; the World Health Organization says iron deficiency is one of the most widespread of mineral deficiencies around the world.  Let’s take a look at why you need iron, symptoms of iron deficiency, and the best ways to get enough iron in your diet.
Iron Deficiency Symptoms
Some of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency are frequent dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and feelings of lightheadedness. More pronounced symptoms include brittle nails, cracks in the sides of the mouth, regular illness and infection, and restless leg syndrome. Most of the research suggests most cases of anemia are caused by iron deficiency.  Recent research also linked attention deficit disorder (ADD) in children to iron deficiency. Common symptoms of ADD appeared to improve in children with low blood iron who received 80 mg iron supplements per day.  More research is necessary but the preliminary findings are interesting.
Who Runs the Greatest Risk?
Anyone who doesn’t get enough iron can suffer iron deficiency but some people are at greater risk. People who should keep a close eye on their iron levels include…
Pregnant Women: Expecting mothers need to increase their iron intake to ensure they maintain healthy iron levels and provide plenty of iron to their baby. Anemia due to iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight in newborns.  Studies also show that women who exercise regularly may run low on riboflavin, or vitamin B2, a vitamin the body requires to fully utilize iron.
Children: Iron is necessary for brain development in children. In fact, a lack of iron is linked to slow neurodevelopment. 
Blood donors: In the US, donors are suggested to only give blood once every eight weeks.  Even with this much time between giving those who donate frequently may suffer from low iron levels – especially if they don’t eat enough iron-rich foods. In fact, the National Institute of Health reports that 25-35% of frequent blood donors develop iron deficiency. 
Cancer patients: Many cancer patients, particularly those who suffer from cancer in the esophagus, stomach, small bowel, or colon may experience iron deficiency caused by blood loss.  The loss of other nutrients and the resulting nutrient deficiencies can speed iron loss and lead to complications.
16 Foods Rich in Iron
There are two types of dietary iron. Heme is iron from animal sources that the human body can easily absorb. Non-heme is a type of iron found in plants and some animal sources. The body doesn’t absorb non-heme iron as well but vitamin C is known to help improve absorption.  The best sources of non-heme iron come from beans, nuts, and vegetables. Here are 16 iron-rich foods you can add to your diet to ensure you get enough iron.
|Food||Milligrams per Serving||Percent DV*|
|White beans, canned, 1 cup||8||44|
|Chocolate, dark, 45%–69% cacao solids, 3 ounces||7||39|
|Beef liver, pan fried, 3 ounces||5||28|
|Lentils, boiled and drained, ½ cup||3||17|
|Spinach, boiled and drained, ½ cup||3||17|
|Tofu, firm, ½ cup||3||17|
|Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup||2||11|
|Sardines, Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone, 3 ounces||2||11|
|Chickpeas, boiled and drained, ½ cup||2||11|
|Tomatoes, canned, stewed, ½ cup||2||11|
|Beef, braised bottom round, trimmed to 1/8″ fat, 3 ounces||2||11|
|Potato, baked, flesh and skin, 1 medium potato||2||11|
|Cashew nuts, oil roasted, 1 ounce (18 nuts)||2||11|
|Green peas, boiled, ½ cup||1||6|
|Chicken, roasted, meat and skin, 3 ounces||1||6|
|Rice, white, long grain, enriched, parboiled, drained, ½ cup||1||6|
Recommended Dietary Amounts
As previously mentioned, several factors can impact the levels of iron you need. Age is typically the most significant, but if you are a woman who is pregnant or trying to conceive, you will need to make sure you’re consuming higher levels of iron daily. An obstetrician can help determine the amount.
Generally speaking, adult men under 50 only need about 8 mg of iron per day. The U.S. National Institute for Health recommends 18 mgs per day for women under 50. After the age of 50, 8 mg per day is the recommended daily value for both men and women. It’s important to remember, though, that as you get older, you don’t digest and absorb nutrients as well. If you begin to experience iron deficiency symptoms, you probably need to find a way to get more iron into your body.
Finding the right balance is critical. Just as iron deficiency can lead to issues with your health, consuming too much iron can actually become toxic.
Precautions and Side Effects
Iron excess, or hemochromatosis is a rare condition, but it does happen. Some people do consume too much iron in their diet or supplement when they don’t need to, but there are some who possess a genetic trait that makes it possible to absorb too much iron. 
The symptoms for iron excess are similar to those of iron deficiency. They include fatigue, dizziness, headache, weakness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and weight loss. The condition can also lead to low levels of zinc. That’s because too much iron interferes with zinc absorption.  Of course, you’ll want to monitor your iron level carefully, but it is far more likely to become iron deficient than to have absorbed too much iron.
Safest Ways to Take Iron
The best way to get iron is through natural, organic foods like the iron rich foods listed above. These also tend to contain other vitamins and minerals that make iron digestion and absorption easier and more complete, along with providing additional health benefits.
One complaint that many have with iron-only supplements is that they tend to be rough on the stomach. Some people even experience nausea or vomiting with iron supplements. That’s why I like IntraMIN®. IntraMin is a complete mineral supplement that delivers 71 organically-bound trace minerals for easy digestion and absorption. It’s an easy way to get many of the key nutrients you body needs – especially iron – without a dramatic change in diet.
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron.
- World Health Organization. Micronutrient Deficiencies: Iron Deficiency Anemia.
- World Health Organization. Worldwide Prevalence of Anemia 1993 – 2005.
- Konofal E1, Lecendreux M, Deron J, Marchand M, Cortese S, Zaïm M, Mouren MC, Arnulf I. Effects of iron supplementation on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. Pediatr Neurol. 2008 Jan;38(1):20-6.
- Allen LH. Anemia and iron deficiency: effects on pregnancy outcome. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Domellöf M1. Benefits and harms of iron supplementation in iron-deficient and iron-sufficient children. Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program. 2010;65:153-62; discussion 162-5. doi: 10.1159/000281159. Epub 2010 Feb 1.
- American Red Cross. Eligibility Criteria: Alphabetical.
- Brittenham GM. Iron