Iron is crucial to our bodies and our health. It works with protein to make the hemoglobin in red blood cells, which carries oxygen throughout the body. And it promotes good muscle and organ function.

However, new research has shown that too much iron can increase risks for type 2 diabetes.

The dangers of too much iron

Iron can promote the creation of toxic oxygen radicals, which can cause tissue damage and disease. In a Danish study, researchers found that the increased activity of a particular iron-transport protein destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Of course, diabetes develops when the body does not produce enough insulin.

Look beyond red meat

A Harvard study that followed men without diabetes for 12 years demonstrated that total dietary iron intake was not associated with an increased risk for diabetes. However, participants who got their iron primarily from red meat were more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, emphasizing the important role diet plays in diabetes.

Research has also linked red meat consumption to a variety of cancers as well as heart disease.

Iron at its healthiest

Eating a well-balanced diet that provides a variety of iron-rich foods is essential for your body to function properly. As alternatives to red meat, healthy foods that contain high iron levels include: eggs, dark leafy greens (like spinach and kale), dried fruit, beans, lentils, and oysters.

Without enough iron, people can suffer from fatigue, dizziness, pale skin, poor memory, muscle weakness, and irritability. Striking the right balance in your iron intake is vital to staying healthy.