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Healthy Habits: Iron

Iron and Your Immune System

Our immune systems are partially dependent upon iron. Conversely, infections and pathogens also require iron to be able to divide and multiply! The key to optimal health in this situation is to make sure that we are getting assimilable/absorbable forms of iron, and making sure not to overload with too much.

If we get too much, which is what can occur with supplements and/or eating an excess of iron rich foods, the mineral can store up in our bodies and oxidize. This oxidative stress can cause many health problems such as with our liver, heart, pancreas, hormonal glands, joints, DNA and cells.

Studies show that oxidation can happen quickly so it is important to keep this in check. Not having enough iron, on the other hand, can cause iron-deficiency anemia and even heart damage.

Recommended Intake

The general daily recommended intake for women between the ages of 19 and 50 is around 18 milligrams, which is higher than what is recommended for men and also for women over 51. Adult men and women over 51 need only around 8 mg. Children ages 4 to 8, should be getting around 10 mg a day, studies show. And, teenagers who are typically experiencing growth spurts may need 11-15 mg per day. Pregnant women require around 27 mg a day, and breastfeeding moms need around 10 mg.

Vitamin C

Consuming whole food sources of vitamin C is critical in helping us better absorb the iron from the foods we eat. (*See my column on Vitamin C in the 6-8-2023 edition of the Clarion for a list of whole foods high in vitamin C.)


Magnesium competes with iron in our bodies, so this is also a factor to consider because most of us, unfortunately, are low in magnesium. In addition to the oxidation that it causes, too much also depletes magnesium levels. Again, a balance of these minerals is essential for our overall health. A blood test to measure your current levels could help you determine if changes are needed in your daily diet.

Heme & Non-Heme

One of the main types of iron that we get from the foods we eat is referred to as heme iron (from hemoglobin), and it is the most assimilable. Some sources of heme iron include: beef, poultry, organ meats and seafood. The other, non-heme, we can get from plant foods like dark chocolate/cacao “bean” (technically a seed), legumes, nuts and leafy greens.

The best way to get the full benefit from dark chocolate, including the iron it offers, is to add raw, organic cacao powder into a daily shake or chocolate drink. Use a natural sweetener like stevia or raw, local honey. The one I recommend, after having tried many, is Zen Spirit Brand premium, organic, raw cacao powder. Two and a half tablespoons of raw cacao powder yields around 25 percent of the daily recommended intake for adult men.

With raw cacao powder, you’ll also be getting 40 times the amount of antioxidants than you would from blueberries! And, it will provide you with a great, assimilable source of magnesium, copper and B vitamins.

*Note: cocoa is not the same as cacao, and does not offer these same health benefits.

Cast Iron

It is true that you can get trace amounts from cooking and baking your foods in cast iron pots and pans. The seasoning of cast iron does create a barrier, preventing the iron to leach into the food, however when you simmer acidic foods in them such as tomato based sauces, that does allow more iron to transfer into your food. Either way, cast iron and also copper cookware (which transfers assimilable copper into the foods you cook in it) are also both much healthier alternatives to Teflon coated cookware.

The health perks we receive from iron are many, including: supports cognitive function, prevents restless leg syndrome, assists in oxygen transport in the body, helps prevent anemia, supports muscle function, supports a healthy pregnancy, assists with maintaining a positive mood, promotes healthy energy levels and, as mentioned above, it helps in supporting optimal immune system function.

Be Well and God Bless You.

By Jennifer Wimmer

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