Feeling constantly tired and low in energy….it may be low iron levels?

Include a Vitamin C rich food with your meal

Iron is an essential mineral our body requires to produce haemoglobin (red blood cells) that transports oxygen around the body, and is crucial for energy production.  Babies and children need iron to grow and develop normally.  Iron deficiency is caused by a depletion of iron stores that can result in a drop of haemoglobin in the blood.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include feeling tired and fatigued (even with sufficient rest), poor concentration, headaches, and more prone to illness.  If you are feeling any of these symptoms, see your GP to check your iron levels.  If diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia, you will need to follow an iron rich diet and take an iron supplement for four months.

People at risk of iron deficiency are menstruating or pregnant women, children, adolescents and people following vegetarian or vegan diets.  There is evidence that vegetarians and vegans are quite able to meet their iron requirements with plant based foods with careful planning to maximum absorption of iron from their foods.  Generally for vegetarians, it is their iron stores (ferritin) that are low, rather than their haemoglobin.

Within my clinic, I am noticing an increasing trend of iron deficiency in adolescent girls. This may be due to a reduction of red meat in their diet, movement towards vegetarian eating, and that iron recommendations actually double to 15mg daily iron when girls reach 14 years.

Where is Iron found?

Haem iron is only found in animal foods and is well absorbed (20%) in the body.  Red meat including beef, lamb, kangaroo and liver are the best sources of haem iron.  Chicken, pork and fish do contain valuable iron but less than red meat.

Food Serving size Iron content
Chicken liver 100g 11mg
Beef 100g 3.5mg
Kangaroo 100g 3.2mg
Lamb 100g 2.5mg
Salmon 100g 1.28mg
Tinned tuna 100g 1.07mg
Lamb brains 100g 1.0mg
Pork 100g 0.8mg
Chicken 100g 0.4mg
Snapper 100g 0.3mg

 

Non-haem iron is found in iron fortified breakfast cereals, wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes and lentils, eggs, green leafy vegetables, nut butters, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.  Only 5% of the non-haem iron from these foods is absorbed by your body, so we need to eat much more of these foods.

Food Serving size Iron content
WeetbixTM 30g 4.2mg
All BranTM 30g 3.2mg
Kidney beans 1 cup 3.1mg
Green lentils 1 cup 3mg
Tofu 100g 2.9mg
Chickpeas 1 cup 2.7mg
Cooked wholemeal pasta 140g (1 cup) 2.3mg
Egg 2 1.93mg
Cashew nuts 30g (20 nuts) 1.5mg
Raw spinach 1 cup 1.2mg
Rolled oats 30g 1.1mg
Almonds 30g 1.1mg
Dried apricot 30g (5 dried apricots) 0.93mg
Broccoli 1 cup 0.86mg
Cooked brown rice 140g (1 cup) 0.7mg
Wholegrain bread 1 slice 0.4mg

Nutrition content of iron foods taken from Nutrition Australia publication 2014

Try these simple steps to boost your iron intake.

  • Include 130g cooked lean red meat serve three times a week (up to 455g per week).
  • Adding even a small amount of haem  iron to the meal to increase non-haem iron absorption of the rest of the meal.
  • If you are vegetarian or vegan, choose plentiful non-haem iron rich foods each day. These include iron fortified breakfast cereal, tofu, wholemeal pasta, quinoa, teff, edamame, green leafy vegetables.
  • Include a vitamin C rich food (orange, broccoli, tomato, strawberries, kiwifruit, capsicum) with non-haem sources to increase the iron absorption from these foods.
  • If you drink tea or coffee, drink these between meals so that the iron absorption of other foods is not decreased. 

 

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