Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Iron and Energy

Liver and Onions Photo by Jannie-Jan's photostream, used by permission

Energy. Ahhhh, wouldn't we all like to have more energy and feel better? Iron increases our energy levels by helping the red blood cells carry more oxygen to our muscles. Iron has some other benefits, too. It is anti cancer; it helps reduce insomnia and improve restful sleep, and it helps our immune system.

We all know we need iron in the body, and we hear everywhere that we get enough iron in our foods and don't need to take iron supplements unless a doctor prescribes iron for anemia.

Yes, that's more or less true. However, absorbing the iron in our foods is another matter, making it sometimes difficult to actually get enough iron. Iron is the central atom the heme group, a metal complex that binds molecular oxygen (O2) in the lungs and carries it to all of the other cells in the body (like the muscles) that need oxygen to perform their activities.

Good sources of easily absorbed iron are oysters, mussels, sardines, salmon, tuna, lean red meats, organ meats and eggs (especially the yolks). The more difficult to absorb iron (non-heme iron) is found in whole grains, legumes, and green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and collards, all still a good source of dietary iron.

Some things decrease iron absorption. Commercial black and pekoe teas contain substances that bind to iron so that we cannot absorb it. Coffee has a similar effect.

On the other hand, foods high in Vitamin C in a meal help us absorb iron. Include some in your meals. Also, if you mix some lean meat, fish or poultry with vegetable sources (beans and/or dark green leafy vegetables) at a meal, you can increase the absorption of iron from the vegetable sources by as much as three times!

I grew up loving liver and onions. The last time I ate liver and onions was a few years ago, while having lunch with a cousin at a Shoney's. He said,
"I make it a point not to eat filters." His point was well taken considering today's massive containment feedlots and liver's function as a filter, so I no longer eat commercial liver.

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