Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies that occurs across ages and genders, although is more common in females than males. People can develop iron deficiency for a number of reasons, and can include blood loss through menstruation or injury, inability to absorb adequate amounts, or consuming insufficient amounts. The reasons can differ from one person to the next, and treatments can vary based on the severity of iron deficiency, which is usually diagnosed using a blood test through a GP, and is often associated with severe fatigue.
The role of iron in the body centres within the blood. Iron is an essential element for blood production, and 70% of iron is found in the body’s red blood cells. Iron assists with the transport of oxygen throughout the body, where oxygen is bound to a blood component called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the cells. Myoglobin is present in the muscle cells, and assists with receiving, storing, and use of oxygen brought out bound to haemoglobin. Most of the remaining iron is stored in the body as ferritin, and when blood levels become low and ferritin levels become low, iron deficiency may be diagnosed.
There are differing degrees of iron deficiency, which are treated in differing ways such as supplementation via guidance of a GP. Many people don’t have a wide variety of iron rich foods in the diet, and here is where we will examine the best foods that contain iron, and how to ensure absorption is maximised.
Iron is absorbed in the upper part of the small intestine (check out last week’s blog to know exactly where), and there are 2 types of food based iron which can contribute to overall iron levels – haeme and non-haeme iron. Haeme iron comes from animal sources that used to contain haemoglobin, such as meat, chicken, and fish (amounts differ), and non-haeme iron originates from plant based sources.
Haeme iron sources:
- Liver – beef or chicken
- Mussels, oysters, or other molluscs
- Sardines or tinned tuna
Non-haeme iron sources:
The iron in non-haeme iron are absorbed better when vitamin C rich foods are consumed along with them, as this assists transporting iron across the intestinal wall.
- Iron fortified cereals such as Weetbix or All Bran
- Beans, and other legumes
- Cooked wholemeal pasta
- Dried fruit
- Cooked brown rice
For exact amounts based on your age group or gender, if you want to know more about how much you are consuming, or have varying iron levels, make an appointment to see one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians.