At 20 pregnancy weeks, the iron reserve of the woman`s body is almost finished even when the growing baby needs more red blood cells. This might expose the pregnant woman to a risk of anemia, meaning low levels of iron. Although this risk involves most pregnant women, those who have had recent pregnancies, more than one baby in their womb or have been undernourished at any time during pregnancy, are even more likely to have anemia.
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The Importance of Iron in the Organism
Iron represents a chemical element found in all body cells. The important of iron in the organism`s economy is derived from the amount it`s found (2,5 – 5 g) and from more than 65% of the total entering hemoglobin in the blood (a protein with an essential role in the transport of oxygen to cells and tissues).
The human body requires a consistent and increased iron intake to fulfill all the functions. Iron needs to exist permanently and at high levels because its functions are multiple and pluralist. For instance, it transports oxygen to tissues, it transports various chemical substances involved in energy metabolism, it has antioxidant action and it`s involved in promoting harmonious development, assuring reproductive function and maintain immunity at optimal levels. Iron is found in the organism in the structure of hemoglobin and myoglobin (muscle protein) as well as various liver enzymes.
Iron Food Sources
The main food sources are meat (red, poultry and beef meat), viscera (liver, heart, kidney), fish and canned fish (salmon, tuna), egg yolks, vegetables, dried fruits, whole grains and black bread.
Iron is also present in smaller quantities in sheep and lamb, as well as in various sausages.
The iron present in vegetables, fruits or cereals is harder to absorb, but the organism can have multiple benefits due to the consumption of these products (increased intake of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fibers), like:
- Dehydrated fruits: plums, raisins, apricots.
- Vegetables: dried beans, soy, lentils, dried peas.
- Seeds: peanuts, nuts, sesame seeds.
- Green vegetables: broccoli, spinach, turnips, lettuce, leeks.
- Whole grains: brown rice, brain, oats, wheat.
The absorption of iron from plants can be significantly increased by combining salads, beans, chopped red meat or chicken.
The main absorption segment of iron is duodenum, but small amounts may pass through other areas (stomach, ileum); iron absorption is facilitated by gastric acidity and vitamin C. There are also situations where the digestive use of iron is diminished: post gastric resection, in the state of hypochlorite, in the presence of excess fat and cellulose in diet.
In general, the absorption process is regulated by the iron necessities of the body. A young adult, with a well balanced diet, will absorb 5 – 10% of the total amount available through the daily diet. This percentage increases up to 20% even in pregnant women. – Visit this link!
- Brown rice – one cup prepared – 0.8 mg.
- Whole wheat bread – 1 slice – 0.9 mg.
- Wheat germ – 2 tablespoons – 11 mg.
- Muffins – 1 simple muffin – 1.4 mg.
- Oatmeal – 1 cup prepared – 1.6 mg.
- Wheat pita bread – one slice – 1.9 mg.
- Spaghetti enriched with iron – 1 cup prepared – 2 mg.
- Sunflower seeds – 30 mg – 1.5 mg.
- Soy milk – one cup – 1.4 mg.
- Bean beans – can conserve half a cup – 1.6 mg.
- Chickpeas – 1/2 cup of canned – 1.6 mg.
- Tofu – half cup – 1.8 mg.
- Soybean burger – medium – 1.8-3.9 mg.
- Raw spinach – one cup – 1 mg.
- Boiled spinach – one cup – 3.5 mg.
- Pumpkin seeds – 1/2 fried cup – 8.5 mg.
- Pistachios – 1/2 cup – 4.4 mg.
- Broccoli – 1/2 cup cooked broccoli – 0.7 mg.
- Green beans – 1/2 cup boiled – 0.8 mg.
- Lime beans – 1/2 cup boiled – 1.8 mg.
- Beet – 1 cup 1.8 mg.
- Peas – 1/2 frozen cup – 1.3 mg.
- Potatoes – cooked or boiled – 1 medium potato – 4 mg.
- Watermelon – an average slice – 3 mg.
- Vegetables with green leaves – 1/2 cup – 2 mg.
Excess & Iron Deficiency
Iron is found in the body in 2 forms: circulating and stored (when incorporated into ferritin and hemosiderin). By making deposits, the body prevents eventual imbalances that may occur acutely. However, if the deficiency of iron is long and the body is constantly deprived of the input of this element, the deposits will be depleted and the iron deficiency will be established.
Iron deficiency has the main expression the occurrence of iron anemia (a particular type of anemia occurred due to deficiency of iron, where the red blood cells are low, poorly loaded with hemoglobin and oxygen). Clinically, anemia translates as marked physical asthenia, dyspnea, headache, irritability, dizziness or weight loss, as well as decreased resistance to various aggressions.
People at high risk of developing iron deficiency are: menstrual women (especially if they have an abundant flow), pregnant or breastfeeding women. They are also exposed to the development of deficiency, patients with digestive haemorrhages, blood donors, vegetarians, performance athletes or patients with digestive pathology which reduces the absorption ability and patients with gluten enteropathy.
Newborns and young children are also at risk of experiencing anemic conditions when diet regimes are deficient in iron fortified products (especially infants who start to have a diversified diet). By the age of 6 – 8 months, it`s considered that the body`s iron reserves are enough to protect him from anemia; however, after this particular age, parents are advised to introduce supplements of iron to the menu. For breastfed newborns, iron supplements aren`t always required, since breast milk is very rich in iron.
Unlike breast milk, cow`s milk has a very low iron content (this is also one of the reasons why its use in infant nutrition isn`t indicated by experts). For newborns who are fed with milk formulas, it`s recommended to use only those fortified with iron. – Click here!
Because the growth rate of children is very fast and, therefore have a much higher need of iron, especially between 1 and 4 years, their intake of iron should be supplemented with iron-enriched foods.
What Do Experts Recommend?
Taking into consideration that the digestive iron absorption is limited to 10% of the available food, it means that the intake must be 10 times the need of the body.
The iron rates recommended by experts are:
Infants and children:
- Under 7 months – 0.27 mg/day.
- 7 – 11 months – 11 mg/day.
- 1 – 3 years – 7 mg/day.
- 4 – 8 years – 10 mg/day.
- 9 – 13 years – 8 mg/day.
- 14 – 18 years – 11 mg/day.
- Over 19 years – 8 mg/day.
- 9 – 13 years – 9 mg / day.
- 14 – 18 years – 15 mg / day.
- 19 – 50 years – 18 mg / day.
- Over 51 years – 8 mg / day.
Pregnant women have a higher need of iron, which might reach 20 – 30 mg during the third trimester of pregnancy. However, after birth it`s not required to increase the intake of iron, taking to account that during the first months menstruation is absent. – Check this out!
Iron in nutritional supplements is in the form of sulfate iron (most commonly used), fumed iron, although iron sulfate has the same degree of absorption and availability for absorption (and also has the price advantage being cheaper). In some cases, it`s recommended to administer the supplement at the same time as ascorbic acid.