What is it? Iron is a mineral found in cells and organs throughout the body, much of it in the red blood cells. Some iron is also stored away in the liver, spleen, bone marrow, and muscles.

Why do we need it? Iron helps build proteins in the blood, which transport oxygen throughout the body. And it is this oxygen that gives us the energy we need to function. A person with iron deficiency would lack energy and feel short of breath or irritable.

How much do we need? Infants are born with about a 6-month supply of iron, and so will need much less dietary iron than children and adults. From newborn to six months, babies require only 0.27 milligrams (mg) per day, a requirement easily met with breast milk or fortified infant formula.

At the 7-month mark, daily iron needs increase:

  • 7 months of age to 1 year of age: 11 mg
  • 1 to 3 years of age: 7 mg
  • 4 to 8 years of age: 10 mg
  • 9 to 13 years of age: 8 mg

Adolescent girls and adult women need higher levels of iron to make up for loss during menstruation. Also, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding may require more of the mineral each day.

  • 14 to 18 years of age: 15 mg
  • 19 to 50 years of age: 18 mg
  • 51 years of age and older: 8mg
  • 14 to 18 years of age: 11 mg
  • 19 years of age and older: 8 mg

Where is it found? Many types of foods are fortified with iron, including breads, cereals, and juices. Iron from meat sources is absorbed better than from vegetable sources. Other food sources include:

Meats and other animal products

  • dark-meat poultry
  • eggs
  • lean red meat
  • liver
  • oysters
  • salmon
  • tuna

Grains, seeds, legumes

  • almonds
  • brazil nuts
  • brown rice
  • kidney beans
  • lima beans
  • millet
  • oats
  • soybeans

Fruits and vegetables

  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • dried fruits
  • kale
  • spinach

Amy Toffelmire