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Preventing Iron Deficiency With Iron-Rich Foods

A vegan or vegetarian diet enjoys numerous benefits for its users. But regardless of the diet one chooses, it’s crucial to give the human body all the nutrients it reqiures. Iron insufficiency is the most typical nutritional deficit. We demonstrates how eating wholesome, plant-based foods is the best way to meet daily iron needs.

What is iron?

A trace element called iron is necessary for many biological processes. The liver, spleen, intestinal epithelium, and bone marrow all contain deposits of iron that are stored as ferritin. A protein complex called ferritin makes up around 25% of the iron in the human body. Since iron cannot be produced by human bodies, it must be consumed in enough amounts through food.

Functions of iron

The creation of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body, uses up to 80% of the iron that is absorbed. Iron is utilized to store oxygen in the muscles as a part of hemoglobin. Iron is essential for the creation of hormones and other messenger molecules, as well as for the energy supply of cells.

Daily iron requirements vary from individual to individual

Age, sex, and individual circumstances all affect how much iron the body typically needs. Women who are pregnant, as well as teenagers, have greater needs for iron. When there is a deficiency or during and after pregnancy, experts advise taking iron supplements. Even though the body needs iron to function, too much iron is hazardous. Always use iron supplements sensibly and in accordance with a doctor’s recommendation. The following levels of iron should be consumed each day, according to the WHO.

Iron deficiency: symptoms and consequences

The most prevalent nutrient shortfall worldwide is iron insufficiency. Two billion people, or nearly 30% of the world’s population, are iron deficient, according to the statistics from WTO. A lack of this essential trace element can be brought on by an illness, significant blood loss (through surgery or blood donation, for example), as well as chronic painkiller usage. The body will utilise its iron reserves if there is not enough external iron available. This stage has no symptoms. The ability to produce new red blood cells, or erythrocytes, decreases, and iron-dependent enzymes become less active.

Fatigue, faintness, hair loss, and headaches are typical symptoms of the iron shortage. Brittle nails and abnormalities in the oesophagus and oral mucosa are other symptoms. There is a danger of developing iron-deficiency anemia if inadequate iron supplementation lasts for a long time. Iron-deficiency anemia is characterized by problems with the immunological, neurological, thyroid, and body temperature control systems.

Detecting iron deficiency: Blood count and blood values

Anyone having iron deficiency symptoms ought to contact a doctor. A full blood count should be performed in addition to a serum ferritin test because iron deficiency can be identified by a blood test. Iron levels in the blood are determined by erythrocyte and hemoglobin levels. Contrarily, serum ferritin levels are correlated with levels of iron storage. The reference ranges for blood levels are displayed in the following table.

Iron requirements met by eating foods high in iron

Eating foods high in iron helps treat mild cases of iron insufficiency. Despite the fact that plant-based foods are also excellent sources of iron, animal products are thought to be particularly high in the mineral. Examples of foods strong in iron include amaranth, quinoa, and whole wheat flour. Sesame seeds are the market leader in terms of the nuts and seeds. Iron is also abundant in pulses including lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans. The following table lists several vegan foods’ iron content.

Plant-based iron versus iron of animal origin

Haem iron, which is only present in animal goods, and non-haem iron, which may be found in both plant and animal products, are the two main types of iron that can be found in our food. While non-haem iron must first be transformed, haem iron can be absorbed directly in the colon. Thus, the two different kinds of iron have varied bioavailabilities, or the rate and amount at which the trace element reaches the bloodstream. Non-haem iron has a bioavailability of 5–12% while haem iron has a bioavailability of 14–18%.

Haem iron increases cancer risk

In the body, the haem iron present in animal products reacts with hydrogen peroxide to form potentially harmful oxygen radicals. This may result in DNA alterations, which would encourage the growth of cancer. A daily intake of 3.5 oz of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%. The risk of colon cancer is increased by 18% by as little as 1.75 oz of processed meat per day. Because of this, the World Health Organization classified red meat including hog, cattle, lamb, and game as potentially carcinogenic in 2015 and processed meat like sausages and ham as carcinogenic in the same year.

Health benefits of vegan sources of iron

People who cut out animal products entirely or in part from their diets had lower cholesterol and less harmful saturated fatty acid intake. The risk of cancer brought on by haem iron can be significantly decreased with a plant-based diet. Additionally, a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is frequently associated with lower BMIs and blood pressure levels. A plant-based diet is generally very good for your health.

Improving iron absorption

Certain meal preparation techniques and food combinations promote greater iron absorption, lowering the risk of iron insufficiency. Iron-rich diets and foods containing organic acids should be consumed together in order to increase the intake of iron from plant sources. Examples include fruit like currants, which contain a lot of citric acid, and apricots, which are high in malic acid. These acids can increase bioavailability by three times and, if ingested in large enough doses, can even counteract the negative effects of phytic acid and polyphenol.

Iron absorption is also facilitated by foods high in vitamin C, such as fruits and vegetables. Lemons, limes, and peppers go well with foods high in iron because of this. Onions and garlic also possess qualities that improve bioavailability. The preparation of food sources that include iron is just as crucial to improving iron absorption as the exact ingredient combinations. Iron-rich foods are more bioavailable when heated or fermented; malting and sprouting have the similar effect.

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