Chronically tired & fatigued? Lacking energy? Can’t concentrate? Irritated? Get sick often? These are some common symptoms associated with an iron deficiency or anaemia. In fact it’s the top nutritional deficiency in the world and now one in five Australian women suffer.
What is iron & what does it do?
Iron is an essential mineral that your cells need for survival. They body cannot make iron itself, so it requires food to provide iron. Like all minerals it has many roles, its main job is to help make a protein called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin acts as a ferry and carries oxygen from your lungs to all of your cells. Without enough oxygen your cells aren’t able to produce energy, leaving you without energy as a result!
Iron deficiency occurs when your iron reserve dip too low, when your stores are low that is when the symptoms like tiredness, fatigue, lack of concentration, decreased immunity and in athletes particularly, decreased sports performance.
Common causes of iron deficiency
· Inadequate dietary intake: Basically if you don’t eat enough iron rich foods then your body cannot absorb enough iron to top up your stores.
· Poor iron absorption: Even if some people eat enough iron rich foods they may have problems absorbing iron, this is when individual medical advice and the help of a dietitian is crucial.
· Blood loss: in situations of chronic blood loss iron deficiency is common. This happens mostly in women during menstruation, however those with regular nosebleeds or chronic disorders like ulcers or polyps may also suffer.
· Increased need: teenage growth spurts, pregnancy and breastfeeding are three key times when the body requires more iron. Therefore if your increased needs are not met then it is easy to become deficient.
· Exercise: athletes and those who train regularly are often iron deficient because their body’s requirement for iron is higher. Hard training increases red blood cell production that in turn requires more iron to match this turnover. In addition iron is also lost through sweating.
Top iron containing foods:
Eating iron rich foods is one way of improving your iron status. There are two types of iron, haem and non haem, both of which are essential to the diet.
Haem iron sources are absorbed up to ten times better than non-haem iron.
· Lean red meat (Kangaroo, Lamb, Beef)
· Offal (Kidney, Liver)
· Coloured fish (salmon, trout & tuna)
Non haem iron sources can be obtained from non animal sources, but are not as well absorbed by the body. This is because they contain other compounds that block their ability to be absorbed by the body. They should be eaten in conjunction with the haem iron sources.
· Beans, legumes & lentils
· Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, Chinese broccoli, kale)
· Nuts & dried fruit
Along with eating iron rich foods, maximizing their absorption is also essential. Vitamin C rich foods help whereas caffeine, concentrated sources of wheat and some medications can interfere.
The amount of iron the body needs differs depending on your age, sex, gender, physical activity level and current diet. Of course, it is never recommended that you self diagnose. It is advised that you seek a blood test from your Doctor if you suspect you may be low in iron.
To help improve your energy & concentration levels, start by increasing the amount of iron in your day. Come and see one of our friendly dietitians, who know the best tips and tricks to help you reach the amount of iron your body needs!