Lori Boxer
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Obesity and Iron Deficiency


Iron is a mineral that’s vital to our health, our metabolism and survival. All of our cells contain some iron, but most of the iron in our bodies is in our red blood cells which transport oxygen from our lungs to the organs and tissues throughout our bodies. However, inflammation associated with excess body weight elevates a hormone produced in your liver called hepcidin, which regulates the iron absorption into your body from your digestive tract. Being overweight is an ongoing inflammatory problem wherein your extra pounds of white adipose tissue crank out inflammatory signals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The more excess weight you have, the higher the inflammation. This leads to higher levels of hepcidin which reduce or prevent dietary iron intake, regardless of the iron content of your food. The result can be a metabolic nightmare of weight gain, fatigue, and poor thyroid function.  


There are two forms of dietary iron:  heme and nonheme.


Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to your body’s cells and tissues.  Too little iron causes a decrease in the number of red blood cells, which results in iron-deficiency anemia (the most common form of anemia).  As a result, you may feel weak, tired and irritable. Heme iron is found in animal foods that originally contained hemoglobin, such as red meats, fish, and poultry.  


Iron in plant foods such as lentils and beans is arranged in a chemical structure called nonheme iron.  This is the form of iron added to iron-enriched and iron-fortified foods.  Heme iron is absorbed better than nonheme iron, but most dietary iron is nonheme iron.  A variety of heme and nonheme sources of iron are listed below.


Selected Food Sources of HEME Iron  Serving Mg.   Selected Food Sources of NONHEME Iron Serving Mg.
Chicken liver, cooked   3½ oz. 12.8   Ready-to-eat cereal, 100% iron fortified 3/4 cup 18.0
Oysters, breaded and fried  6 pcs. 4.5   Oatmeal, instant, fortified, prepared with water 1 cup 8.8
Beef, chuck, lean only, braised 3 oz. 3.2   Soybeans, mature, boiled 1 cup 8.8
Clams, breaded, fried   3/4 cup 3.0   Lentils, boiled 1 cup 6.6
Beef, tenderloin, roasted 3 oz. 3.0   Beans, kidney, mature, boiled 1 cup 5.2
Turkey, dark meat, roasted 3.2 oz 2.3   Beans, lima, large, mature, boiled 1 cup 4.5
Beef, eye of round, roasted 3 oz. 2.2   Beans, navy, mature, boiled 1 cup 4.5
Turkey, light meat, roasted 3.5 oz 1.6   Ready-to-eat cereal, 25% iron fortified 3/4 cup 4.5
Chicken, leg, meat only, roasted 3.5 oz. 1.3   Beans, black or pinto, mature, boiled 1 cup 3.6
Tuna, fresh bluefin, cooked, dry heat 3 oz. 1.1   Tofu, raw firm 1/2 cup 3.4
Chicken, breast, roasted 3 oz. 1.1   Spinach, boiled, drained 1/2 cup  3.2
Halibut, cooked, dry heat 3 oz. .9   Spinach, canned, drained solids 1/2 cup 2.5
Crab, blue crab, cooked, moist heat 3 oz. .8   Black-eyed peas (cow peas), boiled 1 cup 1.8
Pork, loin, broiled 3 oz. .8   Spinach, frozen, chopped, boiled 1/2 cup 1.9
Tuna, white, canned in water 3 oz. .8   Grits, white, enriched, quick, prepared with water 1 cup 1.5
Shrimp, mixed species, cooked, moist heat  4 large .7   Raisins, seedless, packed 1/2 cup 1.5


Hepcidin issues are far more common than not in any person who struggles with weight. Less inflammation must exist in order for iron to work properly in your body. If you think you may be iron-deficient, don’t make any changes to your diet or add/lower supplementation without consulting your physician.  You must always make sure that your diet complies with prescribed protocols or medications that are specific to you.  

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