Iron, an essential nutrient, has long been the nation’s most common nutritional deficiency. In decades past, many parents worried that children who were picky eaters would develop iron-deficiency anemia. My mother boiled meat I refused to eat and fed me the concentrated broth in hopes I’d get some of its iron.
Now baby foods, infant formula and many other child-friendly foods, like breakfast cereals, breads, rice and pasta, are fortified with iron. Today iron deficiency is more likely in infants who are exclusively breast-fed, young children who consume too much milk, menstruating and pregnant women, vegans and strict vegetarians, and people who take medications that cause internal bleeding or interfere with iron absorption.
These days, more attention is being paid to the opposite problem: iron overload, which studies indicate can damage internal organs and may increase the risk of diabetes, heart attack and cancer, particularly in older people.
In examining more than 1,000 white Americans ages 67 to 96 participating in the Framingham Heart Study, researchers found that only about 3 percent had deficient levels of iron in their blood or stored in their bodies, but 13 percent had levels considered too high.