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Are You Getting Enough Iron?


Excerpts from Lisa Yates article

One in four New Zealand women don't get enough iron, and around 2% suffer from anaemia as a result. Getting enough iron can be difficult, especially if you don't eat much red meat. Here's the low-down on getting the iron you need.

Why we need iron
Iron helps your body make red blood cells by binding to a protein called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the pigment that makes blood red and carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. The oxygen is then used to burn carbohydrates and fats, releasing the energy stored inside. Adequate iron ensures peak energy levels, optimal brain function and a strong immune system.

What happens if your diet lacks iron?
Your body has a number of back-up systems which allow it to keep making enough red blood cells. If your diet lacks iron, your body will begin to use up its stores, so you may start to feel tired. When this iron runs out your body can't make enough red blood cells, and you have iron-deficiency anaemia.

Signs of anaemia:
- Feeling tired even if you are sleeping well
- A pale colour 
- Irritability 
- Weakness 
- Shortness of breath 
- Coldness 
- Pins and needles

Over a period of time, anaemia can affect the immune system and brain function. You need to eat iron-rich foods regularly to treat this condition. If you are a teenage girl you are more prone to iron-deficiency anaemia, especially if you are menstruating (as you lose blood every month).  Young women may also experiment with vegetarianism and dieting. 

How to get the iron you need

Girls:  14-18 years.  15mg/day
Boys:  14-18 years.  11mg/day

Having enough energy to do the things you want, not being grumpy (for no reason) and keeping well. Iron is also important for muscle development, so guys - you need it too.

Eating to get the iron you need
The two main forms of iron are haem (found in meats) and non-haem (found in plant foods). Our body is able to absorb 20% of the iron from haem sources, compared with only 5% from non-haem iron sources. Vitamin C and animal proteins help release non-haem iron bound in plant foods, so it's best to eat non-haem iron foods with vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, or with meat, fish or chicken.

If you aren't a meat eater, mix lentils, legumes and brown rice with colourful steamed vegetables and make sure your serving sizes of these are generous.

Eat Any of these... With these for more iron
(non-haem iron foods) (add Vit C-rich foods)
Legumes Tomatoes
Wholegrain breads/cereals       Broccoli
Nuts Kiwifruit
Green leafy vegetables Capsicum
Cereal Citrus fruits and juice

5 iron sources
1. Red meat is the richest source of haem iron and all meat improves the absorption of non-haem iron. A medium fillet steak provides 38% of the RDI for you. Include lean red meat in your diet three to four times a week.
2. Chicken contains haem iron, with a medium breast providing 13% (less the older you get as a woman).
3. Five oysters can provide 50% of iron RDI.
4. Organ meats such as liver and kidney are rich in haem iron and they're yummy!
5. Whole grain breads and cereals, nuts, legumes, and iron-fortified cereals all contain non-haem iron.