Iron is an important trace element. Trace elements are those minerals that are required regularly by the body in small quantities for its well-being. The shortage of iron and other trace elements such as selenium, copper, zinc, cobalt, chromium etc leads to deficiency diseases.
The total iron content required by our body depends upon factors such as age, sex, nutrition, general state of health etc. However, a normal adult man is estimated to require 4.5 grams of iron. Iron plays a vital role in the formation of haemoglobin. Without haemoglobin, red blood cells will not be able to carry out its function of transporting oxygen and other nutrients to various cells. Iron is also required by the body in order to perform certain oxidation-reduction reactions.
About seventy percent of the iron in our body is taken up by haemoglobin. A minimal three percent is required by muscle tissues in the form of myoglobin. Iron gets stored in the body in organs such as liver, spleen, kidney and bone marrow in the form of ferritin, hemosiderin and siderophilin.
Egg yolk, liver and meat form excellent sources of iron. If you happen to be a vegetarian, then your diet should necessarily contain cereals, millets, pulses, and green leafy vegetables in order to meet the iron requirements of the body. Of all the cereal varieties, rice flakes are found to contain iron in the largest measure. However, our body’s rate of absorption of iron from the cereals is very low. Jaggery, raisins, dried dates and spices such as mustard, cumin seed, fenugreek, celery seeds etc also are abundant in iron.
When infants are fed only on breast milk, their iron requirements are met by reserve iron sources. Till the baby reaches four months of age, these iron reserves will serve the purpose. From then on, infant body should be supplied with iron by the food we take in.