Iron requires the body for many tasks. The most iron contains the blood. As part of the red blood pigment, it helps to absorb oxygen. Strong iron deficiency can, therefore, be felt, among other things, as a performance weakness. A balanced diet can usually cover the iron needs of the body. Almost all foods contain iron – generally in tiny quantities – and thus contribute to the iron supply.
Women are generally advised to take 15 milligrams (mg) of iron per day. Men need less: For them, the recommendation is 10 mg per day. The reason for the greater need for women is that they also lose iron because of blood loss during menstruation.
For pregnant women, the German Society of Nutrition recommends taking in 30 mg of iron per day to provide sufficient care for the unborn child. After pregnancy, about 20 mg of iron per day is needed to replenish the emptied iron storage through pregnancy and childbirth.
Which foods contain iron?
A good source of iron is meat. Meat also contains red blood pigment (hemoglobin). The metal can be absorbed by the body very well. Iron from plant foods is generally less useful. For vegetarians, it may, therefore, be difficult during pregnancy to consume the then recommended double amount of metal by diet alone.
The iron intake also depends on the composition of the entire diet, as different foods influence each other. Also, the body adapts within certain limits to the current iron needs: If the iron stores are empty, he can gain significantly more iron from the food.
Other food components can inhibit the absorption of iron from plant foods. They bind iron in the gut, so the body can not absorb it so well. Such substances include, for example, tannins (as in red wine or black and green tea), oxalic acid (such as in spinach, beetroot, rhubarb or cocoa), phytate (for example in cereals) or phosphate (for example in processed cheese). Wheat bran, dairy products, soy products, and coffee also contain substances that hinder iron absorption.
Those who eat a lot or only vegetable food and would like to increase their iron intake can skillfully combine various plant foods. For example, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps to absorb more iron. Good vitamin C suppliers are oranges or orange juice, broccoli, and red peppers. Meat, fish, and poultry also encourage iron intake from plant foods.
The following table gives an idea of how much iron is in different foods. The table lists mainly foods that contain an above-average amount of metal.