Nutritional Facts

The first nutritional "fact" most Americans learn is that iron builds strong and healthy bodies.1 The beef lobby, cereal manufacturers, bread makers, and drug companies have bombarded the public with iron being the cure-all for fatigue and "iron-poor blood." People have been mislead by drug companies pushing iron supplements and by old-fashioned ideas about iron, the magical nutrient of strength. Even the cartoons of the past pushed iron as the secret ingredient in Popeye\'s spinach.

Television advertisements used to urge people to "perk" up their "tired" blood with a liquid iron supplement called Geritol, but the Geritol ad was illegal. The Federal Trade Commission began an ineffective seventeen year battle with J.B. Williams Company, the original makers of Geritol, in 1959. In 1965, the company was ordered to stop airing its fraudulent ads. Americans saw the advertisements for six years before the stop order was given. By that time, there had been much damage to lots of people.

The company continued to broadcast ads that stated that Geritol could make you feel better, improve your sex life, and marriage. Five out of eight of its new ads showed the transformation of a tired worn-out housewife into a "tigress."

In 1970, the Justice Department filed a $1,000,000 suit against the J.B. Williams Company, charging that they did not stop their deceptive advertising as ordered by the Federal Trade Commission. In 1973 a judge gave J.B. Williams Company a total of $812,000 in fines. This was the largest ever for a Federal Trade Commission violation.2

Even today breakfast cereals are fortified with 25 - 200% of Federal Drug Administration\'s recommended daily intake of iron. Iron is also added to multivitamins, pastas, breads, and other processed food. Iron supplements are meant to prevent anemia, a condition in which blood is not able to carry the required amount of oxygen.3 Only two to six percent, mainly women and children, ever develop anemia.

Human body contains about 2 to 5 grams of iron. Sixty to seventy-five percent of the iron is present in the form of hemoglobin. The center of the hemoglobin molecule is iron. Hemoglobin is found in the circulating red blood cells. Each red blood cell lasts about 120 days. Specialized scavenger cells in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow take up the old red blood cells and recycles the iron, fat, and protein.

Iron is treated as "gold" by the blood. This careful recycling of iron means that our daily requirement of iron from food is quite small. The human body loses about 1 milligram of iron a day in the form of sweat, urine, and the natural sloughing of cells in the intestinal wall, hair, skin, and nails. Premenopausal women do not need more than one-half of a MacDonald\'s hamburger or a small bowl of Kellogg\'s corn flakes to prevent anemia.

The iron stores are like water in a camel\'s hump. The human body can draw from them at any time. Most humans could live for long periods of time without iron from the diet. Premenopausal women, that lose 1.6 milligrams of iron per day, could last for three to seven months without depleting their iron stores of 200 - 300 milligrams of iron. Most men and postmenopausal women could go on without iron for two or more years. This assumes an average daily iron loss of one milligram and iron stores of at least 600 milligrams.

The iron is transported and stored until needed. The extra amounts of iron are stored in the protein ferritin that is found inside the cells. In a normal person, the small intestines only absorb iron from food when the iron stores are low. If the body really becomes iron deficient, more iron is absorbed from food. As the body\'s stores of iron increase, the absorption of iron by the intestinal walls decreases.4

Some research shows that the intestinal cells do not have a way to decrease the percentage of meat iron absorbed from food when the iron stores are sufficient. The iron sneaks in because it is chemically attached to the heme in red meat. Only two to ten percent of the iron from fruits, vegetable, and grains is absorbed. Several studies show that vegetarians have lower iron stores than people who have large amounts of red meat in their diet.