Iron is an essential nutrient, vital to many of the cells activities. It is involved in the transport of oxygen around the body via a protein called Hemoglobin. It also plays a role in several important enzyme reactions such as making amino acids, collagen, hormones and neurotransmitters. Low Iron stores can leave you feeling tired and lethargic. Inadequate stores can affect growth in children and pregnant females as well as impact on immune status.
Dietary advice for iron intake - What are good food sources?
There are two types of iron, haem and non-haem. Haem iron is more readily absorbed (around 85%) and is found in animal sources. Non-haem iron is found in whole grain cereals, vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables), fruits, nuts and legumes. This type of iron is not as readily absorbed (only 2-20%). The best, most easily absorbed forms of iron are from animal sources such as meat, especially organ meat, pork, fish and poultry, mostly the darker meat. In some cases eating animal sources of Iron is not advised and may be ruled out due to dietary preferences, never fear there are some handy tips on how you can increase your absorption of both types of Iron.
Ways to increase iron absorption
· Combine meat with plant forms of iron in meals, this enhances the absorption of the less readily available sources of iron
· Include vitamin C rich foods such as oranges, mandarins, capsicum, tomato, broccoli, lemon juice to assist with iron absorption
· Stomach acid is required to break down iron so have half a lemon squeezed in a glass of warm water 5-10 minutes before meals containing iron
Things that decrease iron absorption
· Tannins found tea, coffee and red wine prevent absorption of iron so avoid having these drinks around meal times or when taking supplements containing iron
· Other minerals such as zinc and calcium compete with iron for absorption avoid drinking milk with meals and taking any of these supplements around meal time
· Oxalates found in foods stop iron absorption high sources of these include rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, chocolate, wheat bran, nuts and beets. (So even though spinach is high in Iron it high oxalate content means only about 1.4% of the iron is usable)
This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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Food Standards Australia and New Zealand 2010, NUTTAB 2010 Online Searchable Database, viewed 25 August 2017, <http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/Pages/default.aspx>.
National Health and Medical Research Council 2015, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, viewed 20 March 2016, <http://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients>.
Whitney, E, Rolfes, SR, Crowe, T, Cameron-Smith, D & Walsh, A 2014, Undertanding Nutrition Australia and New Zealand, 2nd edn, Cengage Learning Australia, Wadsworth.