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Iron is an incredibly important mineral in the body, particularly for women of child-bearing age. Read more about the importance of iron for women.

The role of iron

Iron is a very important mineral and micronutrient for the body, helping with oxygen transport around the body, immune health, metabolism and daily energy needed to function.

Iron requirements

Recommended Dietary Intake of Iron for women, according to the Nutrient Reference Values by the National Health and Medical Research Council (2014), are:

Iron-deficiency anaemia

Iron-deficiency anaemia is a consequence of prolonged iron deficiency which can be caused by a number of reasons and those who suffer from iron deficiency will feel tired, lethargic, have a poor immune function, fatigue and low energy. Iron deficiency is diagnosed through a blood test.

How can I replenish iron levels?

Iron takes months to replenish stores in the body, unless you get an iron infusion, focus on dietary changes, or take regular iron tablets for a prolonged period of time. It is important to always check with a doctor regarding the management plan following a diagnosis with low iron, or iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron-rich foods

Red meat is often associated with high iron levels, which is for good reason. Red meat, particularly lamb and beef are a great source of iron in the form of haem iron. Haem iron is most easily absorbed by the body. Other animal meats such as chicken, fish, seafood and pork are also great sources of iron.

Plant-based sources of iron contain non-haem iron which is less readily absorbed by the body, but this doesn't mean its any less of value. Do not get discouraged from eating non-meat sources of iron due to the low absorbative capacity, because this is not entirely true.

Haem iron vs. non-haem iron

Sure, meat has been shown to contain the haem iron which is more readily and efficiently absorbed by the body. This is because meat sources contain all the necessary enzymes and cofactors for efficient breakdown and uptake of iron into the bloodstream from the gut.

Plant-based, or non-haem iron sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, breads and cereals have to undergo an extra step to allow the uptake of iron into the bloodstream, but this can be done more efficiently and effectively with a few dietary changes.

Non-haem iron-containing foods are not any less value.

Essentially, if your body needs iron it will increase its absorption of these foods to compensate, but it just takes a little bit of extra effort. There are certain things we can do to help this absorption of both haem and non-haem iron within meals and around meals.

How to increase absorption of iron

Including dietary sources of vitamin C before, during or after iron-rich meals can increase iron absorption.

Vitamin C assists with reducing the iron into its absorbable form.

Foods such as tomatoes, berries, strawberries, kiwi fruit, broccoli, squeezing lime and lemon juice on meals can all help increase the iron absorption. Take a look at the vitamin C post for more information on foods rich in vitamin C.

Also, eliminating things like tea, coffee and even green tea ~2 hours before and after meals can help iron absorption as these contain tannins that block the absorption of iron.

In summary

Overall, make sure you include a wide variety of iron in your diet and if you are ever feeling tired or lethargic for a long period of time, a blood test from your doctor can be really beneficial to see where your iron levels are sitting.

Whether you are a meat-eater or a non-meat eater that does not matter, but remember some of these tips and tricks to enhance your iron absorption if you think you might need it!

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