The body needs a wide range of vitamins and minerals to maintain good health. You’re no doubt familiar with the role of vitamin C in supporting your immune system, or vitamin A and beta carotene in eye health. You are also likely familiar with at least some of the ways that iron is used in the body, particularly in the production of red blood cells.

However, iron actually has a much greater role to play in whole-body health and it can be more challenging than you realize to ensure you’re getting enough of it in your diet. Legumes can provide you with a rich, natural source of iron that can easily fit within any diet, even that of a vegetarian or vegan.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how legumes can help supply you with the iron your body needs, but also the roles that iron plays in your overall health and wellness.

Iron’s Role in the Body

Iron is central to your health. However, there’s much more to it than just red blood cell production1. It is the central atom of the heme group, which is responsible for binding molecular oxygen in the lungs. It is necessary for transporting oxygen throughout the body via the blood, as well. Without iron, your cells would be starved of oxygen and would die. Iron also plays a central role in:

  • Cell division
  • DNA synthesis
  • Connective tissue production
  • Neurotransmitter production
  • Immune system health

A lack of iron in the body can lead to serious health problems2, including an inability to produce enough hemoglobin, anemia, overall weakness, loss of energy, a compromised immune system, and much more. Iron levels within the body naturally deplete through ordinary processes, including elimination of waste (urine and feces), through menstrual bleeding, and even through sweating. Maintaining proper iron levels is vital to your health, and your diet is the key to doing that.

Adding Iron to Your Diet

When most people think about adding iron to their diet, they immediately imagine eating more red meat. Yes, red meat can be a good source of iron. However, ongoing studies have shown that red meat itself can lead to negative health outcomes. Additionally, this is not a solution for a growing number of people who prefer to follow a diet that consists of mostly plants. Thankfully, there are numerous other ways to add iron to your diet. Legumes make an excellent choice.

What Are Legumes?

Even if you’re not particularly familiar with the term “legume”, chances are very good that you already know these foods. Most of us have eaten many types in our lives. Peanuts are probably the most easily recognized legume, but there are numerous others, including:

  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans

How Much Iron Do Legumes Offer?

Legumes are remarkable sources of good nutrition3 and can provide an immense boost to your health, particularly when it comes to iron intake. For instance, a single cup of lentils contains 37% of your recommended daily intake (RDA) of iron. It also contains 18 grams of protein, 16 grams of fiber, and 90% of your folate RDA. You also benefit from trace elements essential to your health, such as copper, manganese, zinc, and phosphorus.

Of course, not all legumes are created equal when it comes to iron content. Which have the most and are better suited to those with iron deficiency? We’ll run through them below:

  • Soybeans – 49% of your RDA of iron in a single cup.
  • Natto (fermented soybeans) – 83% of your RDA in a single cup.
  • Lentils – 37% of your RDA in a single cup.
  • Beans (white, red, navy and lima) – 24-37% of your RDA in a single cup.
  • Chickpeas – 26% of your RDA in a single cup.
  • Black-Eyed Peas – 29% of your RDA in a single cup.

As you can see, eating even just a single cup of legumes per day can add a significant amount of iron to your diet. Note that vegetarians will need to consume more legumes than those who choose to eat meat as the body does not absorb plant-based iron with the same efficiency that it does iron from meat.

Adding more legumes to your diet is actually quite easy. Lentils in particular can be added in a wide range of ways – madras lentils taste just like chili and can be used in the same manner, for instance. Beans can be added to many different dishes, from soups to meats, and black-eyed peas are delicious served on their own. Chickpeas can be used to make a host of different dishes, from falafel to shakshuka, hummus, and even salad toppings.

How Much Iron Do You Really Need?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Every human body is different. A wide range of factors affect your body’s need for iron, including your gender (women need more than men), age, overall health, level of physical activity, and more. Additionally, children and toddlers need more iron than adults do4. You should also understand that taking iron (or eating iron-rich foods) in conjunction with other foods can affect the body’s absorption. For instance, vitamin C can improve absorption of iron, while milk can reduce absorption.

Do You Need More Iron?

The best way to determine if you are experiencing iron deficiency is to have a blood test performed by a doctor. However, some of the symptoms you may notice include a fast heartbeat, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, hair loss, sores at the corners of the mouth, and difficulty swallowing (more common with severe iron deficiency).

Dangers of Too Much Iron

You should follow a balanced diet in order to avoid experiencing vitamin deficiencies, but also to prevent overloading your body with particular minerals and vitamins. An iron overload can be very dangerous5, particularly if it becomes severe. This condition is called hemochromatosis, and it can lead to damage to the body’s tissues, including the development of diseases like arthritis, diabetes, heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and more.

In Conclusion

Iron is essential for good health, particularly for children and pregnant women. Rather than taking an iron supplement, legumes can provide you with a way to add iron to your diet naturally and support whole-body health.

Do you want to ensure your body isn’t deficient in vital minerals or vitamins, our office can help. We offer naturopathic consultations, vitamin shots and guidance on overall health and wellness. Contact us today.