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Iron Facts

What is iron and how is it used by the body?
Which foods contain large amounts of iron?
What is iron deficiency?
What is iron toxicity?
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What is iron and how is it used by the body?

Iron is a mineral that is required for our bodies to function properly. Most of the iron in our body is found in the blood as hemoglobin, which is a protein used to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.

There are two types of iron in our diets: heme and nonheme iron. Heme iron is derived from the break down of hemoglobin and is only found in animal products.  Plant-based iron is referred to as nonheme iron.

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Which foods contain large amounts of iron?

Food sources high in iron include the following:
Liver
Red meat
Chicken
Seafood
Pork
Soybeans
Legumes
Tofu
Spinach
Strawberries
Raisins
Fortified Foods (cereals)


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What is iron deficiency?

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world.  It is found most often in menstruating females, pregnant women, and older toddlers.  Iron deficiency can be caused by not eating enough iron, not absorbing enough iron, or excessive blood loss.  When a person's diet does not contain enough iron, the iron stores in the body are used. As the iron stores become depleted, hemoglobin levels drop -- a condition known as anemia.  This causes symptoms such as fatigue, a swollen tongue, suppressed immune system, decreased mental functioning, impaired social development in children, and body temperature regulation impairments.

Since vitamin C enhances iron absorption, health organizations recommend ensuring that foods high in vitamin C are included in the diet.

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What is iron toxicity?

Iron toxicity results when the body stores too much iron.  When iron storages in the body are full, the mineral becomes deposited in organs and tissues, including the heart and liver.  Iron toxicity can result in long term damage to these organs, which can result in death.  Children consuming more than 40mg of iron and adults consuming more than 45 mg of iron per day are at risk for toxicity.

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