Pumping iron

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer

By now it is no secret that I have a passion for the gym.  Bodybuilding is a cornerstone of my daily life, and has propelled me in directions I never dreamed possible. While I hope to always remain an advocate of strength training for health and muscular development, there is another vital aspect of “pumping iron” which I try to embody as well, and that is regarding the nutritional importance of the mineral itself. 

Dietary iron is an important component of the many proteins that support and maintain good health.  Iron is essential for oxygen transport within our bodies, as well as the regulation of cell growth and differentiation.  Almost two-thirds of the iron in the human body is found in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to surrounding tissues.

As part of a complete nutritional program, our bodies require 2 types of iron: heme, which is found in abundance in animal sources of protein (red meat, poultry, fish) and non-heme, the chemical structure of iron which is more plant-based.  It is this form that is found in products such as cereal and breads, whose labels read “iron-fortified” or “iron-enriched”.

Vitamin C has been shown to greatly increase the body’s ability to absorb, and therefore utilize, non-heme iron.  This becomes of importance when one’s daily consumption of iron tends to be low, or when iron needs are particularly high, such as during pregnancy. Creating meals that couple sources of iron with foods that are high in Vitamin C offers the best chances of our bodies remaining strong and functioning well.

Since dark green leafy vegetables pack a significant punch in terms of iron content, consider tossing some citrus fruit segments into your next spinach salad to add some zesty Vitamin C.  The addition of chopped tomatoes to a bean dish, or red and yellow bell pepper strips to beef fajitas, are also easy and delicious ways to pair up these two essential nutritional elements.

Recent studies have shown that even a mild iron deficiency in children can have a dramatic affect on their memory, attention span and learning capabilities.  So start pumping some iron into family meals and create strong bodies, inside and out.