Iron consumption is critical for the health of all-especially women of childbearing age, infants, and children. Iron deficiency can cause a range of symptoms from energy draining anemia to disruptive behavior in children. Because adequate dietary iron is so critical to health, many of our foods are fortified with iron to lessen the public health risk of too little iron.
Cereals are probably the most widely iron fortified food in this country. For infants, iron fortified baby cereal is an excellent way for babies to get the iron they need to grow. For older children and adults, a single serving of cereal can provide 100% of the recommendation for iron.
But what happens if a lot of this highly fortified cereal is eaten by men and older women who have significantly lower iron requirements than younger women and children? Women of childbearing age need 18 mg of iron, but men and women in menopause need only 8 mg of iron. While a healthy body can actually exert some control over absorbing too much iron, once in the body, it can be problematic to excrete. If too much iron is absorbed on an ongoing basis, it can cause a range of symptoms from increased infection to organ failure in susceptible individuals.
If you walk down the cereal aisle and start looking at the Nutrition Fact Label on cereal boxes, you will see that some of the most popular cereals-including some of the healthier high fiber whole grain varieties- are often packed with 50 to nearly 100% of the recommended 18 mg suitable for younger women. So, what about a man or older woman who chooses to eat multiple servings of a these cereals in a given day? They would be ingesting much more iron than they need, potentially placing themselves at medical risk over the long run.
Let’s look at how some popular cereals stack up per serving with regard to the 18 mg iron requirement:
- Cheerios have 6.3 mg
- Special K has 6.3 mg
- Corn Chex has 9 mg
- Corn Flakes have 9 mg
- Raisin Bran has 6.3-10.8 mg (depends on the brand)
- Wheat Chex has 14.4 mg
- Frosted Mini Wheats have 16.2 mg
- Multi-Bran Chex has 16.2 mg
- Total has 18 mg
For those who love their cereal, but need less iron, there are some lower iron choices such as:
- Kashi cereals range from virtually no iron up to 2 mg depending on the variety selected
- Puffins have less than 1 mg
- Cooked oatmeal has less than 2 mg
- Fiber One has 4.5 mg
- Frosted Cheerios have 4.5 mg
- Basic 4 has 4.5 mg
- Flax Plus Multibran Flakes has less than 2 mg
Given that many people eat more than the standard ½-1 cup serving size, there is little doubt that some of you are consuming very large amounts of iron from cereal. Couple large serving sizes of iron fortified cereal with a glass of orange juice, and the iron absorption triples from the vitamin C in that orange juice!
Should you change your cereal choice based on your iron requirements?