Iron is an essential nutrient, so you need to make sure that you’re getting enough. But why is iron so important?
Your body needs iron to function as it plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen around your body, hormone synthesis, growth, development, brain function, immune activity, and healthy cell function.
We can often think that we’re eating all the right foods and providing our body with the required amount of nutrients, but this might not always be the case. The types of food you eat not only contributes to your levels of iron but the amount you absorb in your body, this means that you may be accidentally hindering your iron intake without being aware of it.
Iron is needed to make haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen around the body. If your body doesn’t have enough haemoglobin, your tissues and muscles won’t get enough oxygen and be able to work effectively, which can lead to a condition called anaemia.
Anaemia is a condition where the level of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the body is lower than normal. As red blood cells carry oxygen around the body, having anaemia can take a toll on the body because oxygen levels are decreased, and added strain is placed on the heart because it needs to pump harder to convey enough oxygen around the body, which can lead to arrhythmia, an enlarged heart or heart failure. Taking an active role in monitoring your iron levels is essential in maintaining optimum health.
It’s commonly known that you can get iron from red meat, but there are lots of other foods that naturally contain iron. There are two main types of dietary iron — heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in the blood and meat of animal products. And the lesser-known nonheme iron found in plant sources like beans, spinach and nuts. Your body absorbs heme iron more readily – approximately 40% – but it only contributes about 10-15% of total iron intake for most people.
So what can you do to boost your iron levels and increase absorption?
1. Introduce more foods that contain Vitamin A and Beta Carotene into your diet
Beta-carotene is a red-orange pigment found in plants and fruits. It can be turned into vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A is essential as it helps maintain healthy vision, bone growth and your immune system.
Good food sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, squash, red peppers, apricots, oranges and peaches. So next time you’re deciding what to cook, add a touch of colour with your ingredients.
2. Eat foods rich in vitamin C
Vitamin C has been shown to help iron absorption as it stores it in a form that’s more easily absorbed by your body. According to Healthline, in one study, taking 100 mg of vitamin C with a meal increased iron absorption by 67%.
Including foods in your meals that are high in vitamin C or ascorbic acid, in addition to foods high in iron can boost your iron levels. Foods that are high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, bell peppers, melons and strawberries and can all be easily added to your weekly meal plan.
3. Eat more meat, fish and poultry
Meat, fish and poultry not only provide well-absorbed heme iron, but they can also stimulate the absorption of the non-heme form.
Several studies have reported that the addition of beef, chicken or fish to a cereal-based meal resulted in about 2–3 times greater non-heme iron absorption.
4. Reschedule your coffee and tea times
Tannins, found in tea and coffee, interfere with iron absorption, so if you’re trying to build your body’s iron stores, drink tea and coffee at least a few hours before [or after] your meal.
If you have trouble getting enough iron from food sources, you may need an iron supplement. If you suspect you suffer from low iron levels, we can perform any of several tests to determine your iron levels.