Iron is a useful metal.
Iron is very precious for human life. (OR)
The iron is very precious for human life. (in case of uncountable nouns).
Sample texts [which are not single sentences but together in a context]:
Iron is a useful metal. It is essential to many industrial processes. But the iron in these rocks is not worth extracting. It would be too costly.
Taking iron [pills] can lead to problems. The iron I take is prescribed by my doctor.
When you move from an uncountable or countable noun in the same context in a text or in speaking, you move from a general random thing to a specific thing. This move calls for using the definite article the second time you mention the thing. Below are some examples.
Coffee is a great drink. The coffee I drank yesterday at work was truly awful.
A girl was surfing all afternoon in front of our house. The girl wore a full wetsuit as the water was still nippy. The wetsuit was full of stripes.
Apples are a super fruit. But the apples on our tree this year didn't do very well. Probably because the weather was chillier than usual.
Please note: I have not covered every possible usage. But this contextual usage is hard for some ELLers especially for some, like Russian speakers, as there are no articles in Russian.