Iron is an essential mineral that the right food can supply us with. Its main purpose is to manufacture hemoglobin to carry oxygen from the lungs to the different tissues. Foods of animal origin are the ones that provide the most iron. However, some iron-rich fruits should be included in our diet if we want to increase it.
Depending on the food source and the effectiveness of absorption, there are two types of iron: heme iron, which is absorbed in high proportion; and non-heme iron, of vegetable origin. The latter is less absorbed, between 2 and 10%. Therefore, it’s necessary to use some measures to make the most of it.
In this article, we’ll tell you which fruits are richest in this mineral and should therefore be part of our healthy diet.
What other functions does iron have?
In addition to forming hemoglobin in the blood to transport oxygen to different cells in the body, there are other functions of great importance that we’ll see below:
- Provides energy: When iron needs aren’t met in the diet, we feel weak and tired.
- Prevents insomnia: Sleep Foundation has reported that, among the causes of insomnia, especially in women, an impairment in the regulation of iron can be mentioned.
- Oxygenates muscles: It’s also part of myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to the muscles.
- Maintains healthy hair, nails, and skin: Keratin, which is part of these tissues, needs optimal levels of iron to function.
- Supports cognitive health: Constant oxygen supply to the brain is key to preventing cognitive disorders.
- Balances hormones: During the menstrual cycle, women lose iron, so it must be compensated.
- Essential in pregnancy: It’s recommended to follow an iron-rich intake during pregnancy and, if possible, to take supplements.
- Strengthens the immune system: Iron is an important mineral for keeping the defenses active. Many times, its deficiency, as in older adults, affects cellular immunity.
How much iron do I need?
The amount of iron needed varies according to age and sex. The type of diet also has an influence. An omnivorous diet with animal foods is more likely to ensure the correct intake.
In contrast, strict vegans need almost twice the recommended amount. The iron they ingest is non-heme and is poorly absorbed. That’s why it’s important to select vegetables and fruit with the highest content.
Adolescents require 11 to 15 milligrams. Adult men 8 milligrams and women 18 milligrams. Pregnancy demands 27 milligrams of iron and nursing mothers 10 milligrams.
The Best Iron-Rich Fruits you should include in your diet
Although nutrition professionals know that fruits aren’t rich in iron because they’re vegetable tissues, here are some that contain the most iron. In addition, they’re important to ensure a good absorption of the mineral by other routes.
The coconut is a drupe obtained from the tropical species coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), the most cultivated palm tree in the world. The edible part is the solid albumen or copra, which retains water inside.
This particular exotic fruit not only refreshes and hydrates, but also has other properties, such as being a source of potassium, phosphorus, and iron. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams (4 oz.) of coconut pulp provide about 2.43 milligrams of iron.
Of course, its high value in calories, fiber, and fat could cause laxative effects and increase overall calories in the diet. However, about 2 tablespoons of coconut a day can provide 1,2 milligrams of non-heme iron.
2. Currants among the most iron-rich fruits
Currants (Phyllantus acidus L.) are small fruits about 1 centimeter (0.4 in) in diameter. They’re fleshy, juicy, and have a sour taste. For every 100 grams (4 oz) of the edible part they contain 3 milligrams of iron.
In addition, this fruit also provides 3.3 milligrams of vitamin C, which helps the absorption of this mineral at the gastrointestinal level and mobilizes it within the deposits.
Raisins are dried fruits that contain many nutrients. They provide very good values of soluble and insoluble fiber to improve intestinal transit.
Vitamin C is lost during drying, but the iron values are 1.5 milligrams per 100 grams (4 oz.) of grapes. However, care must be taken with the portions to be ingested due to their laxative effect and high energetic value, since their natural sugars are also concentrated. A portion of 40 grams (1.4 oz.) is recommended, which provides about 0.6 milligrams of non-heme iron.
4. Pomegranate juice
The pomegranate tree or Punica granatum L. is a fruit tree found in arid and semi-arid areas in different areas of the world. It’s consumed fresh and one of its most common forms is juice.
A couple of experts wrote about the pomegranate, describing its iron value as 3 milligrams per liter of pomegranate juice. Likewise, vitamin C is found in good proportion. 1 liter (1.75 pints) of its natural juice provides 60 milligrams of ascorbic acid.
5. Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries: among the best iron-rich fruits
Red fruits aren’t only a source of potent antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, which give them their distinguishable red to purple color. They’re also a source of vitamin C, which facilitates the absorption of the iron contained in them.
There are 0.7 milligrams of iron per 100 grams (4 oz.) of these delicious fruits. Remember to eat them as whole fruits so as not to waste the vitamin C.
The fig is a false fruit that belongs to the Moraceae family. It has a soft consistency and an oval or pear shape.
Its thin skin can be green, black, or purple. It has a white pulp with a sweet flavor and many seeds inside.
1 serving of 120 grams (4.2 oz) provides 0.6 milligrams of iron. This value increases considerably when the fig is dried. So does its caloric value.
7. Guava for vitamin C
Guava is the last of our iron-rich fruits. It’s a tropical fruit, native to the Americas and known in science as Psidium guajava.
Its iron value is somewhat low, as only 0.26 milligrams of the mineral are found in 100 grams (4 oz) of this fruit. However, it’s one of the fruits with the highest vitamin C content, since its value is 6 times higher than that of oranges and other citrus fruits.
The value of this vitamin is over 300 milligrams per 100 grams (4 oz) of guava. Undoubtedly, it’s a fruit that should be included in our diet if we want to take better advantage of iron. It can also be combined with others in salads or smoothies.
This will improve iron absorption at the intestinal level.
Other sources of vitamin C that we could use to improve iron absorption from fruits are citrus fruits, such as orange, grapefruit, tangerine, and lemon.
What happens if we lack iron?
Iron is one of the minerals most affected by poor dietary intake. By not feeding ourselves with good sources of the mineral, we could suffer from anemia.
In Spain, for example, the Spanish Nutrition Foundation reports that 14% of children and 18% of women of reproductive age suffer from anemia due to dietary deficiency.
In addition, the lack of iron in the diet also affects DNA synthesis and collagen formation. Likewise, weakness, tiredness, and difficulty sleeping may occur.
Low iron intake can lead to poor performance in daily activities, moodiness, and emotional instability. Other signs and symptoms include pallor, dizziness, nausea, palpitations, brittle nails, and hair loss.
Recommendations to ensure iron intake in the diet
The best sources of iron are foods of animal origin. The iron in meats, fish, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products is absorbed in high proportion.
Not so in the case of fruits and other vegetables. For this reason, it’s recommended to select iron-rich fruits and combine them with those that are sources of vitamin C, such as guava and citrus fruits.