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Medicine LibreTexts

10.1: Chapter Introduction

Big Idea

Micronutrients come from many sources and some may surprise you; get them in the right amounts to support metabolism and blood health.

Video 10.1.1

How to Get Iron into Your Diet

(click to see video)

View this video for simple steps you can take to obtain and maintain healthy iron levels in your body.

Figure 10.1.1: Mmm, cornbread cooked in a cast iron skillet—the smell and taste of cooking on the range. Can this also be an iron-friendly meal? © Shutterstock

In a small town in the Appalachian Mountains, Joseph Lodge founded Lodge Iron Cookware in 1896. Today it is still a family-run business that provides Americans with pioneer-style iron cookware. Iron cookware was and still is, prized for its heat retention, even heating, and durability. In fact, many pans sold one hundred years ago are still in use today. Unbeknownst to the American pioneers, the cookware also leaches iron, an essential mineral, into foods as they are cooked in cast-iron hardware.

Iron has several vital functions in the body. Primarily it is the oxygen carrier of the protein hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. Oxygen is essential for cellular metabolism. A reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells hampers the synthesis of energy and consequently cell function. Additionally, iron is required for energy production and enzymatic synthesis of RNA and DNA. Therefore cells that are rapidly dividing are acutely sensitive to an iron deficiency. Since red blood cells are under a constant state of renewal in the body, low iron levels impede their synthesis, eventually causing anemia. A person with anemia experiences fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, muscle weakness, and pale skin. In infants and children, iron-deficiency anemia can impair growth, motor control, mental functioning, behavior, and performance in school. Iron deficiency is the number one nutritional deficiency in the world, and even in America, it affects 10 percent of women of childbearing age and many infants, children, and adolescents.

Dietary sources of iron include red meats, poultry, leafy green vegetables, prunes, raisins, egg yolks, lentils, oysters, clams, artichokes, and enriched cereal grains. While there are many food sources of iron, only a small fraction of dietary iron is absorbed. One method of increasing dietary intake of iron is cooking foods in an iron skillet. Acidic foods high in moisture content, such as tomatoes, absorb more iron during cooking than nonacidic foods. For example, cooking spaghetti sauce in iron cookware can increase the iron content ten-fold. How much iron leaches into food is also dependent on cooking times; the longer food is in the pan the more iron is absorbed into the food. Stirring food more often increases contact time and thus more iron is absorbed from the cookware. The utility of iron cookware in increasing dietary intake of iron has prompted some international public health organizations to distribute iron cookware to high-risk populations in developing countries as a strategy to reduce the prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia worldwide.

You Decide

What are the different ways to build iron storehouses in your body without taking a pill?

In this chapter, we will discuss the importance of blood and its vital role in support of metabolism and pull together what we have learned about macronutrient metabolism. You will also learn the important roles micronutrients have in metabolism and how they support blood function and renewal. We will also consider food sources of these valuable nutrients. Read the facts, then decide the best way to supplement your diet with iron friendly eating and cooking.