Iron is an important element for your body to utilize in hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in your blood to all the parts of your body. It's also necessary for many metabolic reactions in your body. Iron deficiency and the resulting anemia is the most widespread mineral deficiency.
Iron is needed for your body to form the red pigment in your blood, also known as hemoglobin. The iron within your hemoglobin combines with oxygen and takes it throughout your whole body, its organs and its tissues. The average human body contains between 3.5 and 4.5 grams of iron, and two-thirds of that is in your hemoglobin. The rest of your iron is stored in your bone marrow, spleen and liver. A very small amount is also stored in myoglobin, which stores oxygen in the tissue of your muscles.
If your body is deficient in its stores of iron, it can lead to anemia. If the iron stores become depleted, then your synthesis of hemoglobin can be inhibited. Symptoms of anemia include pallor, loss of appetite, insomnia, headaches, breathlessness, lack of stamina and tiredness. All of these symptoms are associated with a lowered oxygen supply to your organs and tissues. Iron is also important to your immune system, so people with low levels of iron have a lower resistance to infection.
Research has also shown that low levels of iron can be associated with impaired function of the brain. Iron deficiency in infants can result in behavior problems and impaired learning ability.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional problem worldwide. It has been stated by researchers that two-thirds of children and women of child-bearing age in third-world countries suffer from a lack of iron. And one third of the people in those areas suffer from severe iron deficiency and anemia.
If you are a vegetarian, you will not get iron from meat, which is a usual source of haem. In plant foods, you will find only non-haem iron. This iron is harder to absorb, so more plant foods must be eaten to take in proper amounts of iron.
The rate at which your body can absorb iron from vegetables is also influenced by the other things you may eat with your meals. Phosphates in plant foods can inhibit the rate of absorption, as can the tannin that is often found in tea. Fiber may also inhibit iron absorption.
Vitamin C helps your body to absorb plant-type iron. These include leafy green vegetables, green peppers and citrus fruits. Alcohol, amino acids, sugars and citric acid also helps your body better absorb iron.
Some of the better foods high in iron for vegetarians include dried fruits, kidney beans, lentils, blackstrap molasses, leafy green vegetables and whole grain flours and cereals.