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Iron is one of the trace elements. It is involved in many processes in the human organism, including the transport of oxygen as a component of the red blood pigment (hemoglobin) and the storage of oxygen in the muscles. In addition, iron is necessary for blood formation, for the functionality of various enzymes and metabolic processes. Children need iron for brain development. An undersupply of iron can result from blood loss (menstruation) or phases of increased demand, e.g. pregnancy, children in the growth phase.
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- Where is iron found?
- How much iron do we need?
- Too much / too little iron
Where is iron found?
Iron is particularly found in animal products such as meat and fish. Animal foods contain bivalent iron (also: heme iron), which the body can use better than vegetable iron (also: non-heme iron, trivalent). However, plant-based foods such as legumes, whole grains, spinach, peas and black salsify also contribute to meeting the iron requirement.
Note Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can promote the absorption of iron. It is therefore advisable to consume foods rich in vitamin C such as orange juice, sweet peppers or broccoli at the same time.
If vegetable foods are eaten together with meat, poultry or fish, this also supports the absorption of iron from the vegetable foods. On the other hand, certain drugs (e.g. antacids), calcium (dairy products), soy protein (soy products), oxalic acid (rhubarb), polyphenols (black tea), chlorogenic acid (coffee) or wheat bran have an inhibiting effect on iron absorption.
How much iron do we need?
The recommended daily intake for adults (25 to <51 years) according to the DA-CH reference values is 15 mg iron (women) and 10 mg (men). A daily intake of 30 mg iron is recommended for pregnant women and 20 mg for breastfeeding women.
You can find out more about all age groups or groups of people as well as gender in the DA-CH reference values. For more information, see Covering Your Daily Mineral Requirement.
Caution: pregnant women and children
Iron supply bottlenecks can occur particularly in phases of rapid growth. A sufficient intake through food is therefore particularly important for children, especially in the first two years of life and puberty. An undersupply during this time can, among other things, have a negative effect on brain development and growth.
Pregnant women have twice as much iron requirement as non-pregnant women: The increased requirement is explained by the unborn child, the placenta and the increased blood volume during pregnancy. The recommended amount of 30 mg iron per day is difficult to implement through food. A supplementary dose of iron can therefore be considered - talk to your (gynecologist) doctor about this.
Too much / too little iron
- If iron is stored excessively in the body, it can overload the organism and have negative effects: This can occur, for example, under alcoholism or in the presence of a rare hereditary iron storage disease, hemochromatosis. Signs of excess iron include damage to the liver, pancreas and heart.
- An iron deficiencyOften arises from a low-iron diet, especially meatless diets such as vegetarianism or veganism. Frequent causes of iron deficiency are blood loss, for example through heavy menstrual bleeding or unnoticed bleeding in the gastrointestinal area. In addition, poor absorption, for example in the case of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases or chronic diarrhea, can promote iron deficiency. An undersupply of iron can also occur due to an increased need. Pregnant women (double iron requirement) and growing children are particularly at risk. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, tiredness, disturbances in maintaining body temperature ("freezing") and increased susceptibility to infections. A pronounced iron deficiency manifests itself as iron deficiency anemia (anemia).
Further information is available from:
- Iron (laboratory value)
- How can I meet my iron needs? (Gesundheitsinformation.de)
- Healthy recipes
- Herbs and spices