Iron is an essential nutrient that your body relies on for various functions. One of its most critical roles is preventing anemia. Iron is responsible for the production of hemoglobin, a molecule found in your red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout your body. While your body can store iron, it cannot produce it on its own. Thus, obtaining iron through your diet is crucial.
In terms of dietary iron, there are two types to consider: haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is readily absorbed by the body, while non-haem iron poses more difficulty in absorption. Excellent sources of haem iron include beef, lamb, pork, kangaroo, poultry such as chicken and turkey, and seafood like salmon, sardines, and tuna. Organ meats like liver, kidney, and pate also contain haem iron.
Plant-Based Sources of Non-Haem Iron
For those following a plant-based diet, it’s still possible to obtain iron. However, you may need to consume approximately 80% more iron to meet your dietary requirements. Some good sources of non-haem iron from plants include iron-fortified bread and breakfast cereals, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, wholemeal pasta and bread, legumes like mixed beans, baked beans, lentils, and chickpeas, dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, silver beet, and broccoli, as well as tofu.
Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of Iron
The amount of iron needed varies depending on age and sex. Children require different amounts at different stages of development, while teenagers aged 14 to 18 have specific requirements. For adults aged 19 to 50, the recommended daily intake of iron is different for males and females. Pregnant and breastfeeding women also have their own iron intake guidelines. Additionally, individuals who menstruate require extra iron to compensate for blood loss during menstruation.
Enhancing Iron Absorption
Certain factors can affect how well your body absorbs iron. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods can enhance iron absorption. Examples of vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, tomatoes, berries, kiwi fruit, melons, green leafy vegetables, and capsicum. Pairing these foods with iron-rich foods or taking a vitamin C supplement can maximize iron absorption. Conversely, certain substances can hinder iron absorption, such as coffee, tea, red wine, calcium-rich foods like milk or cheese, calcium supplements, and certain soybean-based foods. It’s best to consume these items separately from meals.
Consequences of Iron Deficiency
Insufficient iron intake can lead to iron deficiency, characterized by low iron levels in the body. Iron deficiency can cause symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and difficulty concentrating. If you suspect you may have iron deficiency, it is advisable to consult your doctor. They can conduct blood tests, refer you to a dietitian, and suggest iron supplements if necessary.
Balancing Iron Intake
While iron is crucial for optimal health, it is important to note that excessive iron can be harmful. Before taking iron supplements, it is essential to consult with your doctor. Certain individuals may have a genetic condition called haemochromatosis, which causes excessive absorption and storage of iron. If you have any concerns about your iron levels, discussing them with your doctor is advisable.
Resources and Support
For more information about iron and other essential nutrients, you can visit the Hook’d Up Bar and Grill website. Additionally, if you have further inquiries, you can reach out to the healthdirect helpline at 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). Trained nurses are available 24/7 to address your concerns.