Beans are the richest plant-based foods in iron. A serving can provide almost 50% of the required daily intake of iron!
Health benefits of iron
Iron is necessary for good health. It’s a key component of hemoglobin; a protein of red blood cells that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.
Additionally, iron supports muscle metabolism and healthy connective tissue. Also, it’s crucial for energy metabolism, cellular functioning, physical growth, neurological development, and the synthesis of some hormones, amino acids, and collagen.[1,2]
But, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide! It may lead to serious side effects, such as gastrointestinal disturbances, impaired cognition, weakened immune function, fatigue, and low body temperature. Moreover, iron deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of premature delivery, and miscarriage.
How much iron do we need a day?
The recommended daily intake of iron is 18 mg for women and 8 mg for men. Women require much higher doses due to menstruation period.
Pregnant women require much higher dosages of 27 mg a day.
In contrast, women older than 51 years require only 8 mg of iron a day.
It may be tricky for women of reproductive age to get the recommended iron intake from their diet. They may benefit from taking a dietary supplement. You’ll find a wide variety of iron supplements on iHerb.
What’s the iron content of beans?
Actually, beans are particularly high in iron. They can help us meet our daily iron needs.
Soybeans are the richest beans in iron. A serving of soybeans provides almost half of the required daily iron intake!
White beans and lentils are also particularly high in iron. A serving provides almost 40% of the required daily dose.
Most beans are great dietary sources of iron. They contain more than 20% DV (Daily Value) of iron per serving. Only fava beans are relatively low in iron. In fact, fava beans have the least iron as compared to other beans. A typical serving of cooked fava beans provides only 14% DV.
Do we absorb iron of beans?
We absorb only a small percentage of iron of beans, as well as other plant-based foods. It’s estimated that the bioavailability of nonheme iron (iron in plants) is between 5% and 12%.
In contrast, the bioavailability of iron from mixed diets containing both animal-based and plant-based foods is 14-18%.
We absorb only a small percentage of iron of beans because they’re high in phytic acid and polyphenols. These nutrients bind to iron, inhibiting its absorption. Whole grains are rich in these compounds as well.
Soak and rinse beans thoroughly. A high percentage of these compounds will leach into the water.
The removal of phytic acid and polyphenols can increase iron absorption up to 2.6-fold.
Moreover, the iron bioavailability of beans depends on the variety. For instance, we absorb more iron from white beans than red beans. Red beans have a much higher polyphenol content.
As a rule of thumb, colorful plants contain more polyphenols! You shouldn’t avoid them, though. Although, polyphenols inhibit iron and other mineral absorption, they are powerful antioxidants! Antioxidants help prevent chronic inflammatory diseases and oxidative stress.
Also, vitamin C, meat, poultry, and seafood can enhance nonheme iron absorption. Therefore, you could increase the absorption of iron of beans, combining them with meat or foods high in vitamin C like peppers, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, lemon juice, or kale.
On the other hand, too much calcium might reduce the bioavailability of both nonheme (plants) and heme (meat) iron.
Other foods high in iron
Common foods high in iron are meat, poultry, fish, eggs, whole grains, legumes, as well as certain fruits and vegetables.
Spinach has a good iron content as well. A serving provides 17% of the recommended daily intake! Potatoes, chocolate, and tahini are also favorite foods high in iron!
In addition, drinking certain fruit juices could help meet our daily iron needs.
Why should we eat beans regularly?
Beans are among the healthiest foods you can eat. Besides iron, they’re packed with minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and zinc.
Most noteworthy, due to their antioxidant compounds, long-term consumption of beans may lower LDL-cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure. Regular consumption of beans may reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes as well.
Also, beans may reduce the risk of certain cancers, like colon cancer!
As beans are low in sugars, even people with diabetes can consume reasonable amounts. Beans contain nutrients which help control blood sugar.