What Popeye ignored the iron and you should know

Popeye opened his first can of spinach in 1929 and, in a moment, the field of nutrition changed forever. Next week is 90 years of the character's debut in a comic strip of the New York Evening Journal, and still lives the iron worship that inspired. The mineral is a flagship of any healthy diet, a place that has been earned in its own right: "It enriches all the tissues of the organism with the fuel they need, the oxygen", summarizes the internist Gemma Ortiz. But, as Paracelsus said, the poison is in the dosage, and the one that carry the iron-fortified foods, among which are counted milk, juices, cereals and their derivatives, is pulling to high.

If it were not enough, reading the labels may be insufficient to know how much iron you get between chest and back. A study published in the Journal of the American College of nutrition unveiled that the values of the mineral present in the breakfast cereals analyzed by the scientists were considerably higher than those reflected in the Labelling. In addition, the researchers concluded that the size of the rations indicated in the packaging had little to do with the ones that people took in reality, almost 200% more voluminous.

In Spain, an investigation conducted to advise the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and food determined that, in 2016, Spaniards between 20 and 39 years consumed 136% of the recommended amount of ore, a fact that fell to 76 % among the Spanish. And that the figures did not consider the fortified foods.

The food industry has been taking advantage of iron for almost 100 years, whose function is essential for our survival. He has done it with spinach cans, with food preparations for family vigor and, more recently, through fortified breakfast cereals, enriched breads and kale hipster smoothies . But, in the end, so much fortification has ended up calling the attention of the scientific community, which has seriously raised some questions.

What happens if we start taking uncontrolled vitamin water, enriched carbohydrates, fortified protein bars every day? At a time when the days of famine in which every son of a neighbor suffered a runaway anemia have been left behind, could we be our squeezed an overdose without realizing it?

The ore is saved, but it is in the point of view

Various research groups are beginning to focus on the effects of iron overload on the body. According to a systematic review and meta-analysis on iron and cancer risk, carried out by scientists from the Catalan Oncology Institute, "increased heme iron intake-which is present in red meat and is the one that best absorbs the organism-has Showed a trend towards a positive association with the risk of cancer. "

But scientists, in a necessary boast of caution, clarify that "prospective studies that combine research on dietary iron intake, iron biomarkers, genetic susceptibility, and other Relevant factors to clarify these findings. " After all this work, you may be able to better understand the role of the nutrient in the development of cancer.

One study concluded that the iron content of cereals was higher than that indicated the labelling

On the other hand, the National Institute of Medical Research in London, United Kingdom, concluded that elevated levels of free iron could stimulate the growth of bacteria and viruses, or what is the same: an excess of iron in the organism could increase The risk of infection. However, further research has achieved contradictory results, which means that science needs more time to draw firm conclusions.

"What we know so far is that the mechanism of absorption of the iron of the diet works according to the reserves of the organism," clarifies the hematologist Manuel Viso. "Normally, the body adapts the absorption of the mineral to our ferritin levels (which is the protein in charge of storing it). For example: There is a high percentage of women has iron deficiency (low iron) because of the rule, and in this case the absorption of iron increases. When the deposits are normal or even with an upward trend, the absorption decreases. " That is, that the human body manages well enough regulating the levels of this essential nutrient. But there are cases where it is advisable not to rely too much.

It is the disease that overburdens the organism

It is not usual, but the mechanism by which the human body regulates the amount of iron it admits does not function properly in some people. Sometimes your body accumulates too much, a problem that "may have a congenital origin (what is known as hereditary hemochromatosis) or acquired (as a result of blood transfusions)," according to the president of the Spanish Eritropatología group of the Spanish Society of Hematology and Polytherapy, Ana Villegas. with the exception of these two situations, only iron overloads have been seen "in a rural area of sub-Saharan Africa where they use iron utensils and in people who have been injected with too much ' anemia" during treatment, The doctor concludes.

However, these two groups are an example of how damaging it is for the organism to have an excess of the mineral, which attacks three key points: "The liver (where it can cause cirrhosis), the pancreas (which can trigger a diabetes) and the heart (which can Suffer cardiomyopathy), "hematologist Manuel Viso clarifies. But healthy people can be calm, at least as far as nutrition is concerned: "It is very difficult that only with the diet, if there is no previous pathology, there is an increased iron deposit," says the doctor.

Indeed, it seems that by much iron containing food and fortified preparations, if taken by a healthy person with a good intestinal absorption mechanism are not harmful. The excess is eliminated by the feces and, while the system works, it will always be better to take iron than not to ingest enough and to end up having anemia. Also, consuming more than recommended does not mean that you are giving your body too much of this beneficial nutrient.

We take advantage of less than half the iron we eat

If you have not been given a dish of lentils because you look very pale or have not served you a good steak to make you strong is that you have not had a grandmother. And if you are one of those who suffered the liver with onions, receive our solidarity. Jokes aside, Grandma's tales with iron-rich foods are nothing more than that, fables.

Fortified foods are not necessary if a person follows a balanced Mediterranean diet

In fact, there are two types of iron and they are absorbed differently, as Viso explains. heme iron, found in red meat and other animal nutritional sources, is a type of mineral that we absorb at most 30% of what we eat. Non-heme iron, which is present in legumes, cereals and green vegetables, is a class of which the organism only assimilates 10%. Because most fortified foods contain non-heme iron, little will absorb and, much less, intoxicate us. Although that also does not pound these products from dietary scrutiny.

"It is not necessary to eat iron fortified foods if we follow a balanced diet. What's more, many of the fortified foods are precisely ultraprocessed (like biscuits) whose habitual consumption is not recommending, because they can increase the risk of obesity, overweight and associated diseases, "adds the dietitian-nutritionist Ramón de Cangas.

The doctor in molecular and functional biology concludes by recommending that if we adjust to the pattern of the Mediterranean diet "we will be consuming the necessary amounts of this element". some examples? Yes, "a diet rich in plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grain cereals daily) but also including those of animal origin (fish, meat and eggs weekly) will be healthy and sufficient from the point of View of nutritional Requirements ". That's enough to have an iron health.