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Iron Deficiency

02 Aug 2014

What is iron and what does it do?

Iron is a mineral found in some foods, which is essential for good health and for physical and mental well-being. It has three main roles:

  • To carry oxygen around the body. Every cell in the body needs oxygen. There is iron in the haemoglobin of red blood cells and it carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body.
  • Ensuring a healthy immune system. The cells that fight infection depend on adequate stores of iron. This means if your iron stores are low, your body is more prone to infections.
  • Making energy. Iron is essential for the body's chemical reactions that produce energy from food. Therefore, if your iron levels are low, your body may not be able to use all the energy available.

Possible clinical effects of iron deficiency?

    • Fatigue and reduced tolerance to work
    • Reduced resistance to the cold
    • Impaired immunity (increased frequency of infections)
    • Reduced appetite
    • Deterioration in athletic performance due to decreased aerobic capacity
    • Long-term iron deficiency leads to anaemia with more severe symptoms

What are the best sources of iron?

Red meats are amongst the best sources of absorbable iron. Kidney and liver are particularly rich in iron. Lean beef and lamb are excellent sources of iron and have a higher iron content than pork, chicken or fish. In general, the redder the meat, the higher the iron content.

Where is iron found?

Iron in food is found in two main forms: haem iron and non-haem iron. Meat, poultry and seafood contain haem iron, which is easily absorbed by the body. Up to 25% (15-35%) of the iron in beef and lamb is absorbed.

Non-haem iron, found in eggs, vegetables, grains and fruit, is poorly absorbed. As little as 5% (2-20%) of iron in spinach is useable. You need to eat about 2kg of silver beet to get the same amount of iron provided by 100g of lean beef.

What to do to avoid iron deficiency and have a healthy diet.

  • Eat lean beef and lamb at least 3 times per week as an excellent source of iron. As a guide, a portion of meat should be about the size of the palm of your hand (not including fingers!).
  • Eat meat, poultry or fish (haem iron foods) with vegetables, breads, pasta or grains (non-haem iron foods), as haem iron helps you absorb up to 4 times more iron from non-haem iron foods.
  • Eat foods rich in vitamin C, e.g. oranges, kiwifruit and tomato, to help boost iron absorption from non-meat foods.
  • Alternatively, drink fruit juice with your meal, which is also high in vitamin C.
  • Avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals as they reduce iron absorption.

Tags: Diet, Exercise, Health, Iron, Remedies, Study

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