Iron deficiency is surprisingly common in the UK. It is particularly prevalent among infants, teenage girls, pregnant women and the elderly. I, myself, have been rejected from giving blood on several occasions due to low iron levels, and I now ensure I eat iron rich foods regularly.
Iron plays a critical role in transferring oxygen around the body and it is a vital part of haemoglobin, which are the oxygen carrying red blood cells. It plays a part in energy production, muscle function, DNA synthesis and the immune system. Iron is stored primarily in the bone marrow and tissue.
Iron takes two forms in our food: haem iron is found in animal products and non-haem is found in plant-based products. Our body absorbs haem easier than non-haem and so vegetarians and particularly vegans need to consume higher levels of iron to get the same benefit. Vitamin C is a great friend of iron, and if you eat Vitamin C rich food at the same time as iron rich foods the absorption is much higher. Conversely tannin found in tea and de-caffeinated tea inhibits the absorption, which is another reason why I always ask my clients to refrain from drinking tea with their meals or immediately after.
Iron also plays a part in energy production; so, if you are feeling tired, you may be suffering from low iron levels (always consult your doctor). As we get most of our iron from food we need to ensure we regularly eat iron rich foods. The NRI level is 14mg a day, and more for pregnant women. These foods are rich in iron, *(it is important to note that pregnant women should avoid all liver products including pate as they contain high levels of Vitamin A which may be harmful to the foetus). Also, many cereals are fortified with iron so eating them can help you reach your NRI, however please make sure you read the labels as a lot of these foods can also contain high levels of sugar
Liver* – pate is a great way to introduce liver to your diet, and if you eat it with crudities you are getting your Vitamin C to aid absorption
Try Chicken Liver Pate recipe
Beef & Lamb red meat is a great source of iron, particularly prime cuts of beef
Clams & Oysters If you can’t stretch to oysters, British clams are particularly good value
Kidney Beans these are unsung heroes of mine, how about a bean stew with Tomatoes another great source of iron
Lentils and Quinoa are both cheap and filling, high in fibre and great for vegetarians and vegans. Try adding a handful of lentils to a stew about 20 mins before serving, they will thicken the sauce and add bulk. Or add quinoa to rice to increase the iron content.
Nuts and Seeds particularly sesame seeds, sprinkle some seeds on your breakfast and add some blueberries for supercharged start to the day.
Chickpeas another great vegan source of protein, try hummus with crudities, again giving the Vitamin C we are looking for to aid the absorption
Eggs never forget the versatile egg, how about a filling omelette with any combination of iron and Vitamin C rich foods.
Spinach and Broccoli, we all know about Popeye and his muscles but it’s true that both these greens are high in iron and Vitamin C so it’s a double bonus!
As always try to eat a variety of different foods to ensure that you are getting a balanced diet.