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Why are foods enriched with iron?

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Quick Answer

Many food companies enrich foods with iron to make it easier for people to maintain a sufficient daily iron intake. Iron deficiency anemia is a very common health problem that is often corrected by consuming more dietary iron.

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Full Answer

There are two different types of dietary iron: heme and nonheme iron. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin and is therefore found in animal proteins such as meat and fish. Nonheme iron is derived from plant sources. Heme iron is easier for the human body to absorb than nonheme iron; therefore, meat and fish are the most significant sources of dietary iron.

Iron deficiency anemia makes it difficult for the body to produce hemoglobin, which in turn means that red blood cells become less efficient at carrying oxygen through the bloodstream. A person suffering from iron deficiency anemia may feel consistently weak and tired. In extreme cases, he may have shortness of breath or appear physically pale. This type of anemia is more common in women because of the blood that is lost during menstruation. Pregnant women are at an increased risk because of the extra blood required to support a growing fetus.

Nonheme iron is used to enrich various types of food. Many grain products such as flour, cereal, instant oatmeal and store-bought bread are enriched with iron during the manufacturing process.

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