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Why do we need iron?

Iron, a mineral, functions primarily as a carrier of oxygen in the body, both as a part of hemoglobin in the blood & of myoglobin in the muscles.

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What is "a good food source" for iron?

A good food source of iron contains a substantial amount of iron in relation to its calorie content & contributes at least 10% of the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (U.S. RDA) for iron in a selected serving size.

The U.S. RDA for iron is 18 milligrams per day. The U.S. RDA given is for adults (except pregnant or lactating women) & children over 4 years of age.

The U.S. RDA for iron is the amount of the mineral used as a standard in nutrition labeling of foods. This allowance is based on the 1968 Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for 24 sex-age categories set by the Food & Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Women & Iron
 

Nutritional All-Star: Iron

This mineral helps stave off sluggishness by building up red blood cells, which transport the oxygen your body needs to keep all cylinders running.

 

Without enough iron, your supply of red blood cells dwindles & you begin to look pale & feel weak.

 

"Women require more iron than men do because they shed red blood cells when they're menstruating," points out Jackie Newgent, a registered dietitian & nutrition consultant in New York City.

 

What women need:

  • 15 mg daily for 18 to 50 year olds
  • 10 mg daily for those 51 & older
  • 30 mg for pregnant women (ask your doctor about taking a prenatal supplement)

What women get:

  • Women ages 20 to 59 get an average of 13 mg per day.

Add to your diet: You absorb more iron from meat & fish than from other foods.

  • Try 3 ozs. lean steak (3 mg)
  • 3 ozs. chicken or pork (1 mg)
  • 3 ozs. fish fillet or 5 large shrimp ( mg)
  • 5 small clams or 1 lobster tail ( mg)

Nonmeat stars include:

  • 1 cup fortified breakfast cereal (4 to 18 mg of iron)
  • 1 oz. pumpkin seeds (4 mg)
  • 1 cup prune juice or cup cooked spinach (3 mg)
  • cup kidney beans (2 mg)
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread (1 mg)

Try to eat these foods with something rich in vitamin C to increase absorption, suggests Newgent.

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Do we get enough iron?

According to recent USDA surveys, the average iron intake of American women 20 to 50 years of age was 83% of their RDA.

Men of the same age met & exceeded their RDA.

The ability of the body to absorb & utilize iron from different foods varies. The iron in meat, poultry & fish is absorbed & utilized more readily than iron in other foods.

The presence of these animal products in a meal increases the availability of iron from other foods. The presence of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in a meal also increases iron absorption.

The body increases or decreases iron absorption according to need. The body absorbs iron more efficiently when iron stores are low & during growth spurts or pregnancy.

The most common indication of poor iron status is iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which the size & number of red blood cells are reduced. This condition may result from inadequate intake of iron or from blood loss.

Good Sources of Iron

Food

Selected

Serving Size

% Of U.S. RDA1

Breads, cereals, & other grain products2

 

 

Bagel, plain, pumpernickel, or whole-wheat

1 medium

+

Farina, reg. or quick, cooked

2/3 cup

++

Bran Muffin

1 medium

+

Noodles, cooked

1 cup

+

Oatmeal, instant, fortified, prepared

2/3 cup

++

Pita bread, plain or whole-wheat

1 small

+

Soft Pretzel

1

+

Ready-to-eat cereals, fortified

1 ounce

++

Rice, white, reg. or converted, cooked

2/3 cup

+

Fruits

 

 

Apricots, dried, cooked, unsweetened

1/2 cup

+

Vegetables

 

 

Beans, lima, cooked

1/2 cup

+

Spinach, cooked

1/2 cup

+

Meat, poultry, fish & alternates

 

 

Meat & Poultry

 

 

Beef

 

 

Brisket, braised, lean only

3 ounces

+

Ground; extra lean, lean or regular; baked or broiled

1 patty

+

Pot roast, braised, lean only

3 ounces

+

Roast; rib, roasted, lean only

3 ounces

+

Short ribs, braised, lean only

3 ounces

+

Steak; baked, broiled or braised; lean only:

3 ounces

+

Stew meat, simmered, lean only

3 ounces

+

Liver, braised

 

 

Beef

3 ounces

++

Calf

3 ounces

+

Pork

3 ounces

+++

Chicken or turkey

1/2 cup diced

++

Liverwurst

1 ounce

+

Tongue, braised

3 ounces

+

Turkey, dark meat, roasted, without skin

3 ounces

+

Fish & Seafood

 

 

Clams; steamed, boiled, or canned; drained

3 ounces

+++

Mackerel, canned, drained

3 ounces

+

Mussels, steamed, boiled, or poached

3 ounces

+

Oysters:

 

 

Baked, broiled, or steamed

3 ounces

++

Canned, undrained

3 ounces

++

Shrimp; broiled, steamed, boiled, or canned; drained

3 ounces

+

Trout, baked or broiled

3 ounces

+

Dry Beans, Peas & Lentils

 

 

Beans; black-eyed peas

 

 

(cow peas), chickpeas (garbanzo beans),

 

 

red kidney, or white, cooked

1/2 cup

+

Lentils, cooked

1/2 cup

+

Soybeans, cooked

1/2 cup

++

Nuts & Seeds

 

 

Pine Nuts (pignolias)

2 tablespoons

+

Pumpkin or squash seeds, hulled, roasted

2 tablespoons

+

1 A selected serving size contains -
+ 10 24% of the U.S. RDA for adults & children over 4 years of age

++ 25 39% of the U.S. RDA for adults & children over 4 years of age

+++ 40% or more of the U.S. RDA for adults & children over 4 years of age

2 Breads, pasta & cereals listed are enriched unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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iron - you are here!

Where do we get iron?

In 1990, grain products supplied almost half (49%) the iron in the American diet & meats supplied nearly 1/5 or (19%).

About 1/10 of the iron in the American diet also came from vegetables.

Foods that contain small amounts of iron, but are not considered good sources, can contribute significant amounts of iron to an individual's diet if these foods are eaten often or in large amounts.

How can we get enough iron?

Eating a variety of foods that contain iron is the best way to get an adequate amount. Healthy individuals who eat a balanced diet rarely need supplements.

Intakes of iron tend to be low in relation to recommendations, & there aren't that many foods that are really good sources; thus, it may take special care to ensure an adequate intake.

Many doctors recommend feeding a fortified milk formula or breakfast cereal, or giving an iron supplement to infants & toddlers, because it is especially difficult to meet their iron needs.

Doctors usually prescribe iron supplements for pregnant or lactating women.

How to prepare foods to retain iron

Iron is lost in cooking some foods even under the best conditions. To retain iron:

  • Cook foods in a minimal amount of water.
  • Cook for the shortest possible time.

What is a serving?

The amount of nutrient in a serving depends on the weight of the serving. For example, a cup of cooked spinach contains more iron than a cup serving of spinach served raw, because the cooked spinach weighs more.

Raw spinach provides the nutrient, but just not enough in a cup serving to be considered a good source.

What about enriched or fortified foods?

Pasta, white rice & most breads made from refined flours are enriched w/iron, because iron is one of the nutrients lost in processing.

Other nutrients added to refined flours & pasta are:

  • thiamin
  • niacin
  • riboflavin

Enriched products or products made from enriched flour are labeled as such. Minimum & maximum enrichment levels are specified for thiamin, riboflavin & niacin, but only a minimum level of iron is required in farina. Thus, iron enrichment levels for farina vary from brand to brand.

Most ready-to-eat & instant-prepared cereals are fortified w/iron. Fortified, ready-to-eat cereals usually contain at least 25% of the U.S. RDA for iron.

Since cereals vary, check the label on the package for the percentage of the U.S. RDA for a specific cereal.

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