|Minerals help the body perform numerous functions, such as building strong bones, transmitting nerve impulses, making hormones and maintaining a regular heartbeat.
There are two types of minerals - macrominerals and trace minerals. Your body needs larger amounts of macrominerals like calcium, sodium and potassium. Trace minerals, on the other hand, are only needed in small amounts. Common trace minerals include iron, zinc, selenium and chromium.
Iron, a trace mineral, prevents anemia and keeps your red blood cells healthy. In fact iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, a part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. You also store iron in your muscle tissues and it's an essential part of many of your body's proteins and enzymes.
How Much Iron Is Enough?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron is:
- 10 milligrams a day - Men age 19 and older and women age 51 and older who are not menstruating
- 15 milligrams a day - Women age 19 to 50 who are menstruating
- 30 milligrams a day - Pregnant women
- 15 milligrams a day - Breastfeeding women
Good Sources of Iron
- Animal liver, kidney and heart
- Iron-fortified bread and cereal
- Lean red meat
- Egg yolks
- Dried beans and legumes
- Blackstrap molasses
- Dried fruit
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Foods cooked in an iron skillet
Animal products provide heme iron, which is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron, the type of iron available from plant sources.
When you're eating iron-rich foods, avoid drinking black or pekoe teas, which can inhibit your body's absorption. Try to eat foods containing vitamin C (such as oranges or grapefruit) with iron sources to enhance your body's rate of absorption.
Can You Have Too Much or Too Little?
Iron deficiency, which is the most common nutritional deficiency, can cause anemia, which prevents your body's cells from getting enough oxygen. Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include weakness, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue and irritability. Teen girls and women who are menstruating and children and adolescents undergoing rapid growth periods are especially at risk for iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia. Infants and children are also at increased risk of iron deficiency.
In some people iron can build up to toxic levels in the body. Studies show that too much iron can lead to increased risk of coronary heart disease and some cancers. You should never take iron supplements without consulting your physician. Symptoms of iron toxicity are fatigue, anorexia, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, weight loss, shortness of breath and possibly a grayish color to the skin. If you do take iron supplements, be sure to keep them in a locked cabinet where your children can't reach them. Ingestion of iron supplements by children can cause iron toxicity, which may be fatal.
Taking more minerals than you need won't make you healthier. In some cases taking too much of a mineral can make it hard for your body to absorb other vitamins. But you don't want to be deficient in minerals, either. You can avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, protein sources, whole grains and dairy products every day.