The question is though, is there enough in there??
Why should you care?
Iron plays a very important role in the body. It is essential for blood production and transporting oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. The majority of it is found in our red blood cells as haemoglobin or in muscle cells as myoglobin.
What happens when you have low iron levels?
You could get a type of anaemia known (ironically?) as iron deficiency anaemia.
Anaemia is when you don’t have enough red blood cells. There are many different types of anaemia caused by different things. But the most common one and the main one that your diet can help with is iron deficiency anaemia.
Here are some of the signs that you may have iron deficiency anaemia:
Feeling tired, lethargic or weak
Brittle, flaky or spooned nails
Dry or cracked skin
Brittle hair or excessive hair loss
Cold hands and feet
Red, swollen tongue
Feeling short of breath
Headaches or feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Irregular heart beat
Sometimes you could lose your appetite or have unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances like ice, dirt or starch
Some of these symptoms appear later as iron deficiency progresses. But early on if you are feeling tired all the time or noticing differences in your skin, nails or hair that you think might be related to low iron, you should see your GP and ask to get your iron levels tested.
You should definitely get this checked before trying iron supplements because having too much iron can damage your liver and cause other problems.
So how do we fix it?
The main cause of iron deficiency anaemia is lack of iron in your diet, which can easily be fixed by eating more good quality iron rich foods!
Other causes include blood loss, inability to absorb iron and pregnancy. So diagnosis of these would require further investigation.
But back to diet!
What is a good quality iron rich food??
Red meat – all meat contains iron, but red meat has the most, so make sure you’re getting lean red meat a couple of times a week.
If you like offal – like liver, kidney, etc. these are also great sources of iron.
If you don’t like those meats, make sure to include other sources of lean meats, eggs or seafood, particularly oysters and mussels.
If you don’t eat meat at all, not to worry! There are also vegetarian sources of iron:
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, silverbeet and broccoli.
Nuts and seeds, especially almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, and tahini (sesame seed paste found in hummus).
Tofu and other soy products (although these also contain phytates which may inhibit absorption).
A note on iron absorption
There are two main types of iron found in the foods we eat – haem iron and non-haem iron.
Haem iron is found in animal products (meat, eggs and dairy) and is more readily absorbed by our body (7-35%).
Non-haem iron is found in plant products (green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and soy products) and is less easily absorbed by our body (2-20%).
Iron absorption is also affected by other factors which is why the range of absorption is so great for both types of iron. The main factor that affects absorption is the amount of iron already stored in your body. This is because your body is always looking out for you and making sure everything is within optimal levels! :)
There are also some tricks we can do to help our body absorb non-haem iron.
Absorption of non-haem iron is inhibited by calcium (from milk and dairy), tannins (found in tea and coffee) and phytates (in legumes, wholegrains). So avoid eating these foods at the same time as having non-haem iron.
And absorption is aided by ascorbic acid (vitamin C found in citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, broccoli and tomatoes) and cysteine (found in red capsicum, garlic, onion, broccoli, and brussel sprouts).
So… have a glass of orange juice (or better just eat an orange) when you have your healthy salad at lunch full of spinach, kale, capsicum, broccoli, cashews, sesame seeds with a hummus dressing… and wait til afternoon tea to have your cup of tea, cappuccino or smoothie.