Why these 20 foods may help you feel better

Did you know that iron is a critical nutrient in the production of neurotransmitters the body uses to manage our mental health?

How iron affects mental health

Iron helps ensure that the brain has enough oxygen for oxidative metabolism, when the body converts carbohydrates into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP transports the chemical energy cells need for most of their functions, including membrane and protein synthesis, cell movement, cellular division, and solute transportation.

It also helps produce the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. Serotonin contributes to our feelings of well-being and happiness. Norepinephrine and epinephrine both help us deal with stress. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter, helping to control the reward and pleasure centres in the brain.

Speaking of dopamine and serotonin, iron increases the ability for these two neurotransmitters to bind to proteins in the frontal cortex of the brain.

Natural iron sources

Iron is available in many food sources. It comes in two forms: heme iron from animal products and which our bodies easily absorb and non-heme iron from plant sources.

Here are 20 foods that have the highest iron content per serving:

Source Iron content 
Pig liver, cooked  13.4 mg
Liver (chicken, turkey, lamb), cooked  9.7 mg
Lamb kidney, cooked 9.3 mg
Oysters, cooked 9.0 mg
Tofu, cooked 8.0 mg
Duck, cooked 7.4 mg
Octopus, cooked 7.2 mg
Instant oatmeal, cooked 6.6 mg
Soybeans, cooked 6.5 mg
Cream of wheat, cooked 5.8 mg
Lentils, cooked 4.9 mg
Beans, cooked 4.9 mg
Cow liver 4.9 mg
Pumpkin seeds, roasted 4.7 mg
Kidney (cow, veal, pork), cooked 4.4 mg
Moose or venison, cooked 3.8 mg
Chickpeas, black-eyed peas, split peas 3.5 mg
Spinach, cooked 3.4 mg
Beef, cooked 3.3 mg
Tempeh, cooked 3.2 mg

How much iron do I need?

Daily iron requirements vary per person, but here are a few guidelines:

Age Iron intake (mg/day)
Men 19 and older 8
Women 19–50 18
Women 51 and older 8
Pregnant women 19–50 27
Breastfeeding women 19–50 9

Keep your intakes to under 45 mg per day. Also, note that vegetarians and vegans need almost twice of that listed above, since non-heme iron is more difficult for the body to absorb.

Vitamin C can help your body more easily absorb iron, so be sure to include foods high in vitamin C when eating foods with iron.

Even though iron is an important nutrient in our body’s maintenance of mental health, try to avoid focusing on just iron as the solution to mental health challenges. Because the body uses multiple nutrients for neurotransmitter production, it’s important to eat a variety of whole foods to maximize your chances of absorbing the right amounts of all nutrients.

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