Iron - Are You Getting Enough?

Having low iron status can have a massive impact on your energy levels, your sleep patterns, your ability to fight off infections and so much more. Yet approximately 1in 6 Australians have an iron deficiency.
Role of Iron Iron’s most well known role is to transport oxygen around the body via a protein called Haemoglobin, found in red blood cells. But healthy blood isn’t all that Iron is capable of - Iron also plays a key role in energy production, oxygen storage in the muscle and immune regulation. Seriously-low iron stores can lead to a blood disorder called iron-deficiency anaemia. Signs you could have sub optimal iron status
  • You’re tired and lethargic all the time
  • You’re feeling weak and find it hard to catch your breath - especially upon physical exertion e.g. in the gym
  • You seem to catch every cold and flu that comes your way
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate at work
  • You’re experiencing dizzy spells
Who’s at risk? Women have higher iron requirements than men due to monthly blood losses, which puts them at a greater risk of iron deficiency. People following a vegetarian/vegan diet are also more at risk of iron deficiency, as well as young children and athletes.
Food sources of Iron Haem iron - type of iron found in animal products and is absorbed relatively well by the body.
  • Best sources: chicken liver, beef, kangaroo, lamb, salmon, tinned tuna, pork, chicken, snapper, clams
Non-Haem Iron - type of iron found in plant foods. Lower bioavailability compared to haem iron and absorption can be enhanced or inhibited by other dietary factors.
  • Best Sources: Kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, wholemeal pasta, fortified cereals like Weetbix, cashews, almonds, raw spinach, rolled oats, dried apricots, figs, broccoli, brown rice, wholegrain bread, cacao powder and quinoa
Enhancers: these increase plant-based iron absorption Combining non-haem iron with a source of vitamin C Cooking non-haem iron Inhibitors: these decrease plant-based iron absorption Tannins, found in tea and coffee can reduce absorption of plant-based iron Phytates and Oxalates (found in grains, nuts legumes and some vegetable) can also interfere with haem iron absorption Calcium competes with iron for absorption. This can be tricky because often plant sources of iron are also high in calcium. However the largest and most bioavailable source of calcium is cow’s milk, so best to avoid combining lots of dairy with your plant-based iron foods.
Tips to boost your iron intake
  1. Include iron-rich grains like quinoa in a salad and add a source of citrus (e.g. lemon juice or orange segments) to boost absorption
  2. Try using baby spinach and kale in your salads rather than regular lettuce
  3. Snack on iron-rich dried fruit, nuts and seeds like pepitas, cashews, dried apricots and figs. Better yet, sprinkle them over your main meals for added crunch
  4. Consider having your tea/coffee half hour away from meal times
  5. Bulk up your stews, soups, salads and curries with lentils for an added iron boost.
  6. If you eat meat, choose red meat twice a week

Should I take a supplement?
  • Unlike some other nutrients, there is such as a thing as too much iron
  • If you suspect you might have low iron, get your levels tested by your Doctor before commencing a supplement
  • Iron is present in very small amounts in most multi-vitamins and is considered safe even if you have adequate iron stores.