Beets rarely make it onto the family favorite list for vegetables, but they can provide some iron to your diet.

How Often Should You Eat Beets for Iron?

by Sharon Perkins

Beets aren’t exactly a crowd pleaser among the younger set. Like many vegetables, beets do contain iron, although they don’t contain as much iron as leafy green vegetables like spinach. If you want to sneak a little extra iron into your kids, serving beets can help you boost their intake. Vegetables in general, though, don’t offer the most efficient iron source for you or your kids.

1. Iron Needs

Kids and adults need iron to make new red blood cells and to carry oxygen to all the cells in the body via hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells. Your kids need 10 milligrams of iron per day form ages 4 to 8, and 8 milligrams per day between the ages of 9 to 13, the Office of Dietary Supplements reports. Starting in their teens, girls and women need more iron than men. For teen girls, 15 to 18 milligrams per day will fulfill their needs, while you need 18 milligrams. For growing teen boys, 11 milligrams per day will keep them strong and healthy.

2. Types of Iron

The iron in food isn’t all created equal. Iron in meats, such as beef, poultry and fish, called heme iron, is easily and well absorbed by your body. The iron in vegetables such as beets, as well as in grains and legumes -- called non-heme iron -- is not as well absorbed as heme iron. Eating foods high in heme iron or in vitamin C -- such as citrus fruits -- at the same meal as vegetables like beets can increase the absorption of iron.

3. Iron in Beets

If you’re like many Americans, you’ve never consumed a plain beet straight from the ground; the only beets you’re acquainted with, known as Harvard beets, come in cans and contain added vinegar and sugar. No matter whether you cook up a fresh beet, eat the greens or the beet root raw or consume the kind of beets ubiquitous on salad bars, beets contain around 1 milligram of iron per 1-cup serving, according to the USDA Nutrient Database. Getting too much iron can be as harmful as getting too little for people who absorb higher-than-normal amounts of iron from their food, the Office of Dietary Supplements warns. But beets don’t contain enough iron for you to restrict your daily intake. You can eat beets every day if you want them, in most cases.

4. Side Effects

Eating beets on a regular basis could cause you or your child some consternation when you urinate: betanins in beets can turn your urine or stool red. Despite the appearance, it's not blood and has no harmful effects at all, Dr. John McDonald, Professor of Biology at the University of Delaware, states; it's simply the deep red pigment in the beets passing through your system. Not everyone experiences this side effect, which might be related to the organic compound oxalic acid in beets. Oxalic acid can cause kidney stone formation in some individuals; if you suffer from kidney stones, ask your doctor how often you should eat beets.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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