Iron is an abundant element on earth. In our body, the mineral iron is involved in oxygen transportation and energy formation.
The body uses iron to make haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles.
Iron is essential for making haemoglobin that is a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
- Feeling tired.
- Lacking in energy.
- Tend to be more susceptible to infections.
- Iron-deficiency anaemia- symptoms such as heart palpitations, brittle nails, thinning hair, itchy skin (pruritus) and mouth sores or ulcers can develop.
Which foods are good sources of iron?
The iron in animal-based sources is often referred to as ‘haem iron’ whilst the iron in plant-based sources is often referred to as ‘non-haem iron’.
- Animal-based sources such as red meat are rich sources of iron and are most easily absorbed, and to a lesser extent eggs, fish and poultry.
- Plant-based iron sources include pulses and legumes (such as beans, peas, and lentils), dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, cabbage, and broccoli), tofu, nuts and seeds, beets, oatmeal, quinoa, tahini and more. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with iron.
‘Haem iron’ can increase the absorption of ‘non-haem iron’.
Therefore, to improve the iron status, it can be beneficial to eat, for example, red meat (beef, lamb) alongside green leafy vegetables.
Plant-based foods such as beans, grains and vegetables also contain iron.
Although not as easily absorbed as animal-based sources.
Food preparation can enhance iron absorption.
For example, cooking, soaking nuts and seeds and using sprouted seeds and grains.
- Vitamin C has been shown to increase the absorption of iron.
So eating fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C with meals will increase iron absorption.
- Ensure an iron-rich diet
- Add green leafy vegetables to main meals.
- Have fruit and (or) nuts as snacks between meals.
- Iron absorption inhibitors are phytate, polyphenols, and calcium.
- It is better not to combine dairy with iron-rich meals. Calcium has been found to have an inhibitory effect on both heme and nonheme iron absorption.
- Food sources high in phytates include soybean, black beans, lentils, mung beans, and split beans. Unrefined rice and grains also contain phytate. A way to reduce the phytates content of foods is to soak legumes and grains before cooking.
- Choose sourdough whole-grain bread over regular yeast bread.
- Wholemeal toast with Tahini ( in a tbsp you have approximately 1.3 mg iron) with a piece of fruit/ veg.
Tahini is a source of calcium, iron, dietary fibre and healthy fats.
- Granola made from oats with Natural plant-based yoghurt.
- Porridge with fruits, seeds and nuts.
- Whole grain cereals fortified with iron.
- Miso soup with Tofu (5.4mg Iron per 100g).
- Wholemeal sandwich with tuna, sliced beef steak (2.9 mg per 100g) and salad.
- Chickpeas and spinach soup.
- Omelette with spinach.
- Lentils salad with quinoa.
- Salad sprinkled with seeds with a portion of meat, fish or pulses and potatoes.
- Meat, fish, poultry or pulses serving with vegetables and sweet potatoes.
- Baked potato (with skin) with baked beans and vegetables.
- Curry with lentils and turmeric.
- Chicken liver pate, with sourdough rye bread and roasted vegetables.
Fruit (fresh or dried), a handful of nuts.
- Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R., & Kelishadi, R. (2014). Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 19(2), 164–174.
- “Iron – Health Professional Fact Sheet.” 28 Feb. 2020, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/.
- Moustarah F, Mohiuddin SS. Dietary Iron. [Updated 2020 Apr 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK540969/
- Iron Food Fact Sheet, British Dietetic Association www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts