Iron is good for you. Like the famous cartoon character Popeye said, “I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats my spinach”. However, it is also possible to get too much of a good thing. You also need to be careful about how you get your iron. But what are good sources of iron? In this post, we will look at where to look for your iron intake, what other vitamins are important, and why you should avoid multivitamins that contain iron.
Why is iron good for you?
Iron is a key nutrient that the body uses to generate hemoglobin which helps red blood cells to oxygenate the body. Iron also helps the body to produce myoglobin which helps to prevent muscle fatigue after exercise. On the flip-side, if you don’t get enough iron, you can become anemic which can cause dizziness, fatigue, paleness, breathing difficulties, and even heart palpitations in the most severe cases.
Other benefits of iron include:
- Energy boost
- Increased focus
- Supports gastrointestinal processes
- Healthy immune system
- Good regulation of body temperature
How can you add iron to your diet?
Iron can easily be added to your diet as it is found in lots of foods. Vegetables offer something known as non-heme iron, whilst meat offers heme iron. Heme iron found in meat is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron. Foods that are particularly good sources of iron include:
- Red meat (preferably lean)
- Oily fish like mackerel, anchovy, and tuna
- Whole grains
- Dried fruit
Why shouldn’t you take iron supplements?
So given iron is so good for you, why can’t you take iron as a supplement? Unfortunately, the body is not able to properly regulate iron consumed in iron supplements. This means that as iron passes through your intestines, they are unable to block iron you don’t need getting into your system. Too much iron can be toxic for the body and in extreme cases can even cause death.
When an excess of iron accumulates in the blood and muscles it can cause damage to heart cells. If this excess continues, it can cause things like hepatitis, scarred liver, and cirrhosis. Excess iron has also been linked to certain types of liver cancer. As such, if you are prescribed iron supplements to manage anemia, it is important to keep to the dosage your doctor recommends and stop taking supplements once your deficiency is under control.
Can multivitamins without iron be good for you?
It is usually possible to get the right balance of the vitamins and minerals you need from a healthy diet. However, in some cases, multivitamins can help to boost specific areas of need. For example, if people are forced to spend lots of time indoors, then a vitamin D supplement can help to ensure we get enough of this vital vitamin.
Multivitamins without iron can also help to ensure we get enough of other key vitamins like vitamins A, B, and C without running the risk of getting iron poisoning. Research also shows that children of 6 months up to the age of 5 years may particularly benefit from supplements of vitamins A, C, and D (so long as they are not receiving baby formula).
What are the different vitamins good for?
Typically, multivitamins will contain some combination of vitamins A, B, C, and D. Unlike iron, these vitamins are usually suitable for consumption in supplementary form. Here, we outline what these vitamins do for the body:
- Vitamin A
Boosts the immune system and keeps skin healthy. Found in dairy products, fortified spreads, carrots, and dark green vegetables.
- Vitamin B
Also known as thiamin, vitamin B helps the body to break down food, boosts energy, and keeps the nervous system in good health. Found in peas, wholegrain bread, eggs, liver, and dried fruit.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is good for general health, the immune system, and actually helps the body to absorb iron. Found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers.
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D is good for healthy bones as it helps us to absorb calcium and phosphate. Vitamin D is harder to come by than many vitamins when it comes to food as its best source is actually the sunlight. However, it can be found in oily fish and eggs.
Having a balanced diet is the best way to ensure you get all of the vitamins and minerals you need. However, taking supplements can help for harder to obtain nutrients or if you struggle to get enough of certain vitamins. Unless recommended to by your doctor, you should avoid multivitamins including iron as the body cannot process excess iron provided by iron supplements.