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Iron: Important nutrient in our diet

AUTHOR – Daniel Dorantes Ugalde; Ana Laura Martínez Torres. Sigma Alimentos Nutrition Institute (INSA).

Iron is a necessary nutrient for the formation of hemoglobin, which is a protein present in red blood cells and its main function is to bring oxygen to all cells of the body, that´s why an iron deficiency can cause anemia.

Iron of animal source vs plant source

It is known as bioavailability to the amount of a nutrient in a food or diet that is absorbed and can be used for various functions in the body. One of the fundamental factors of the bioavailability of a nutrient is the way it is found in food, as well as factors that promote or inhibit its absorption.

Iron can be found in foods of animal origin such as beef, pork, fish, poultry and organ meats, this type of iron is known as heme iron, while iron coming from grain, legumes, eggs, milk and vegetables is known as non-heme iron.

However, iron intake does not guarantee that its functions in the organism are exercised, it is necessary that it is absorbed and that it is available for use by the organism. In humans, the form that is best absorbed and used is the heme iron, that is, the one that comes from products of animal source.

What happens in our body when we lack iron?

Anemia is one of the most common condition due to lack of iron. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main cause of anemia is the deficient consumption of iron (especially heme iron, from meat).

In Mexico, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey of the Middle Way (ENSANUT 2016), anemia mainly affects children and women; 26.9% of children between 1 and 4 years old and 24% of women between 40 and 49 years old present it.

This condition has serious consequences for the health of the population and the economic development of the countries, due to the presence of a higher maternal mortality, delayed growth, physical and cognitive development in children and adolescents, a decrease in the immune response and low productivity at work, as well as an increase in the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Some studies in the Mexican population associate the consumption of beef and organ meats with a lower risk of anemia, while the consumption of non-heme iron indicates a higher risk of anemia.

How much iron do we need?

In Mexico, the iron intake recommendation is 17 mg per day. Here are four bioavailable iron foods that contribute significantly to achieving this recommendation.

Food How much iron does it contribute per 100 g?
Red meat 39 mg
Pork 22 mg
Poultry 11 mg
Turkey 9 mg

Eating a varied diet can cover the daily needs and, in this way, contribute to maintain an adequate nutritional status of children and women.




1Bourges H, Casanueva E, Rosado J. Recomendaciones de ingestión de nutrimentos para la población mexicana Bases fisiológicas. Tomo I. Ed. Panamericana, 2005.

2.Prevalence of anemia and consumption of iron-rich food groups in Mexican children and adolescents: Ensanut MC 2016. Salud Pública Mex. 2018 May-Jun;60(3):291-300.

3.Tendencia en la prevalencia de anemia entre mujeres mexicanas en edad reproductiva 2006-2016. Ensanut MC 2016. Salud Pública Mex. 2018 May-Jun;60(3):301-308.

4.USDA Food Composition Databases. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Última fecha de consultado el 8 Octubre 2018. Disponible en https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/