We all know iron is something we need to stay healthy and prevent anemia. But did you know that too much dietary iron can hurt your health? When choosing a cereal, most people grab what tastes good. If they are health conscious, fiber rich cereals might be chosen. Or, a cereal low in sugar and calories might be selected. But, savvy health conscious consumers should also be thinking about iron in cereal.
One of the main problems with iron fortification is that the cereal is fortified for the part of the population that needs the most iron. That part of the population is women of childbearing age. So, listen up adult males and older women: you, in particular, need to be mindful of the iron content of your favorite breakfast cereal.
Check the Nutrition Fact Label for iron
When looking at a Nutrition Fact Label, note the percentage of DV iron. Looking at the above label, if a young female of child-bearing age has a 3/4 cup serving of Wheat Chex, she will be consuming 80% of her iron requirements (or about 14 mg of iron). However, if an adult male or older woman eats 3/4 cup of the above cereal, he/she will be consuming almost double the iron recommendation of 8 mg of iron. The fact that so much of our food supply is fortified with iron increases the risk of getting too much.
Problems resulting from too much iron
Constipation. Aside from being unpleasant, this is not healthy for your body. Any toxins or food pathogens present in your food will linger in your gastrointestinal tract. And, this will potentially threaten your overall health. There is also scientific evidence that constipation can be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
Possible accelerated aging. Researchers recently pointed this out in worms, and will likely try to evaluate if this applies to aging in humans. In the interim, we already know that iron causes oxidative stress. Oxidative stress in humans is thought to be involved in the development of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Iron overload concerns. Healthy people make a hormone, hepcidin, which swings into action to prevent too much iron from being absorbed. However, in a now common genetic condition called iron overload (or technically Hemochromatosis), the body is unable to put the brakes on iron absorption and iron begins to build up in the tissues. Early symptoms are varied and include fatigue, abdominal pain, and increased infections. Later symptoms include liver failure and heart failure, bone damage, and diabetes.
For those who have yet to be diagnosed with iron overload, choosing a cereal with generous iron is particularly problematic. Healthy males and older women should read the cereal Nutrition Fact Label to make the best choice for iron intake. Chances are your cereal has too much, so buyer beware.
Sue Rose is an IL licensed dietitian/nutritionist providing counseling to both corporations and individuals. She invites you to visit her blog for intelligent and relevant diet and lifestyle strategies to enhance your life and well-being.