A Look at Iron

By Charlyn Fargo

April 5, 2019 6 min read

There's a lot of talk lately about the importance of iron. Your teens need it; adults need it.

Iron is the most abundant mineral on Earth, as well as the most abundant trace mineral in your body, according to Joan Salge Blake, author of "Nutrition and You," a book I use in the college-level nutrition class I teach weekly.

It's also the nutrient teens lack the most, even more than calcium.

"Iron needs go up dramatically in the teen years," according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "During childhood (ages 9 to 13) both boys and girls need about 8 milligrams of iron daily, according to the Dietary Reference Intakes. As teens grow, their muscle mass increases and blood volume expands, increasing their need for iron, so the recommendation jumps to 15 milligrams of iron daily for girls ages 14 to 18, and 11 milligrams daily for boys ages 14 to 18."

By comparison, adult females (age 19 to 50) need 18 milligrams daily. During pregnancy, a woman's needs go up to 27 milligrams per day. After age 50, daily iron needs drop to 8 milligrams. Adult men (ages 19 to 50), need only 8 milligrams of dietary iron daily.

Getting the right amount of iron is a balancing act and why it's always best to get iron from food sources rather than supplements. Consuming too much iron from supplements can cause constipation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In children, too much iron can cause poisoning, which can be fatal.

Yet, iron deficiency is considered to be the most common nutritional disorder in the world, especially among teens. "Girls also need to replace iron stores lost during menstruation. Sometimes girls are on calorie-restrictive diets in an effort to lose weight that also can affect iron consumption. Vegetarian or vegan teens may also be at greater risk of iron deficiency. Girls who don't eat protein foods regularly may not consume enough iron either," the Academy reports.

Here are some tips to enhance absorption of iron by combining vitamin C with plant sources of iron:

— Eat whole-grain enriched cereal with a glass of orange juice to boost absorption.

— Add salsa to bean burritos.

— Stuff a baked potato with shredded, cooked chicken and broccoli and top with melted cheese.

— Eat a small box of raisins and a clementine together for an afternoon snack.

— Add chickpeas to a salad, as well as tomatoes.

Q and A

Q: Does eating fish make you smarter?

A: "Children who eat fish at least once a week sleep better and have IQ scores that are 4 points higher, on average, than those who consume fish less frequently or not at all," a study from the University of Pennsylvania found. "Previous studies showed a relationship between omega-3s, the fatty acids in many types of fish, and improved intelligence, as well as omega-3s and better sleep. But they've never all been connected before."

Information courtesy of Penn Today and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


It won't be long until farmers markets and grocery store produce bins will be brimming with spring vegetables. The spring vegetables are to be celebrated. Here's a recipe to use for just-picked radishes, asparagus and fingerling potatoes from "Cooking Light Cooking Through the Seasons."


3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

1 pound baby carrots with tops

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise (about 1 1/4 pounds)

1 (6-ounce) bag radishes, halved (about 1 3/4 cups)

2 cups (2-inch) slices asparagus (about 1 pound)

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Combine vinegar and shallots in a small bowl; set aside. Trim green tops from carrots; discard tops. Combine carrots and next 5 ingredients in the bottom of a roasting pan, tossing gently to combine. Bake at 500 degrees for 20 minutes or until vegetables begin to brown, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from oven; add shallot mixture and asparagus, tossing to combine. Return pan to oven; bake 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and chives. Yield: 7 servings (serving size: 1 cup).

Per serving: 127 calories; 3.9 grams protein; 24.6 grams carbohydrates; 2.2 grams fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 3.9 grams fiber; 232 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and a spokesperson for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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