If you're a woman of childbearing age, or you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, chances are you may not be getting adequate iron. Meeting your daily iron needs can be a challenge, but there’s plenty you can do to make sure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient.
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in our health. Because we need iron to carry oxygen around our bodies, it’s no surprise that not getting enough iron can have a serious impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Unfortunately, many of us struggle to get adequate iron each day. Not consuming enough dietary iron, heavy blood loss and regular vigorous exercise can all lead to low iron. People who don’t eat much red meat or follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may also find it a challenge to get adequate iron. Have a listen to Shan Cooper below and her experience as a vegetarian.
Iron helps the body produce hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from our lungs to the cells in our body so they can function properly. Iron is therefore essential for:
If you don’t consume enough iron, you may be at risk of iron deficiency. Women are particularly susceptible to developing low iron. One in five women of childbearing age suffer from some form of iron deficiency... And, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have heavy periods, or don’t eat red meat, iron deficiency may be more common.
Your gender and age determine how much iron you need per day for optimal health and wellbeing. Here’s the recommended dietary intake of iron for each age group:
|Age Group||Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI)|
|1 - 3 Years||9mg/day|
|4 - 8 Years||10mg/day|
|9 - 13 Years||8mg/day|
|14 - 18 Years||11mg/day|
|14 - 18 Years||15mg/day|
|19 - 50 Years||18mg/day|
|Pregnant and lactating Women|
|All pregnant women||27mg/day|
|Lactating women 14 -18 Years||10mg/day|
|Lactating women 19+ Years||9mg/day|
Because the body can’t make iron on its own, it gets it from the food we eat. Popular sources of iron include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, red meat, poultry, fish, spinach and tofu.
Interestingly, not all iron is created equal. Dietary iron is present in two forms – haem iron and non-haem iron – with haem iron more readily absorbed by the body. Haem iron is found in red meat, poultry and fish; while plant foods, such as spinach and lentils contain non-haem iron. About 25% of haem iron is absorbed by the body compared to 5 to 15% from non-haem iron.
As you can see in the table below, more iron is able to be absorbed from foods such as red meat, fish and poultry than from iron-fortified breakfast cereals and spinach:
If you’re looking to boost your iron intake, modifying your diet, whether you’re a meat-eater or not, can be a simple way to do it:
"I didn’t eat red meat for 15 years and had an ongoing battle with low iron and low B12." Shan Cooper, My Food Religion
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