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Are you getting enough Iron?

Iron is a mineral needed by the body for the transport of oxygen to all of our cells and tissues. It is vital for growth, brain development, immunity and overall health and wellbeing.

Iron deficiency is a fairly common problem and without intervention, it is one that can lead to iron deficiency or anaemia. Common causes of iron deficiency in adults include an inadequate dietary iron intake, chronic loss of blood and a decreases ability to absorb iron. Risk of a deficiency is higher during life stages of rapid growth when iron needs increase, or when involved in vigorous exercise. Particularly, pregnant and lactating mothers, babies and toddler, menstruating women, and female athletes are at risk. Adult males require 8mg of iron per day, while adult females require 18mg.

There are two types of iron: haem and non-haem iron. These two types of iron differ in their ability to be absorbed by the body. Haem iron is derived from haemoglobin and myoglobin, and it is well absorbed and remains relatively unaffected by other foods eaten within the same meal. Haem iron can be found predominately in meat, fish or poultry. Beef and lamb are some of the best sources of iron, as they contain double the amount of iron found in pork, chicken and fish. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating an iron rich diet which includes 130g of cooked beef or lamb every second day.

Non-haem iron is found in plant-based foods, and is not as well absorbed by the body when compared to haem iron. Examples of non-haem iron sources include tofu, spinach, eggs and lentils. Adding a source of Vitamin C to a meal containing a non-haem iron source will increase the amount of iron absorbed (see our previous blog post for more information!).

If you have low energy, or experience poor concentration, irritability and general low moods, you may have low iron stores. The best way to prevent iron deficiencies is to consume an iron-rich foods regularly. If you suffer from iron deficiency, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement to assist in increasing your iron stores. Once they have returned to normal, you should be able to maintain your iron stores by consuming regular iron-rich meals. If you are concerned about your iron levels, see your GP to ask for a blood test.

References:
  1. Hallberg L, et al. Iron requirements and bioavailability of dietary iron. Experientia Supplentum. 1980;44:223-44.
  2. Monsen ER, et al. Iron nutrition and absorption: dietary factors which impact iron bioavailability. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1988 Jul;88(7):786-90.
  3. Morris ER, et al. An overview of current information on bioavailability of dietary iron to humans. Federation Proceedings. 1983 Apr;42(6):1716-20.
  4. Bermejo F, Garcia-Lopez S. A guide to diagnosis of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia in digestive diseases. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2009 Oct 7;15(37):4638-4643.
  5. Lynch SR, et al. Interaction of Vitamin C and iron. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1980;355:32-44.