Feeling Tired? It might be your iron levels
Iron is an important dietary mineral that our body needs to work well. The body needs iron for our red blood cells to carry oxygen around our bodies and for proteins in our muscles.
Iron is also needed for many other roles including our immune system.
Your body needs the right amount of iron
Low iron or iron deficiency anaemia is a common problem in New Zealand. If you do not have enough iron in your body you may:
- feel tired
- find it hard to think and concentrate
- find it harder to learn
- be more at risk of infections and illnesses
- feel the cold more than others.
Who needs iron?
Iron is important for everyone. Our need for iron differs over our lifetime and not getting enough is common.
People at risk of iron deficiency are:
- Infants, children and teenagers, as they grow quickly.
- Teenage girls and adult women due to monthly blood loss.
- Pregnant women, as their iron requirements increase considerably with the growing foetus.
- Athletes and very active people as they often have higher losses, e.g. from strenuous exercise, and altered food intake.
- Vegetarians or vegans, as they may not eat sufficient iron-containing foods.
- People who have a problem with their gut not absorbing enough iron from foods they eat.
Where can I get iron?
The best food sources of iron are:
- beef & lamb (the redder the meat, the more iron there is in it)
- chicken, fish & seafood.
- Other foods with iron are:
- grains: porridge, oatmeal, iron-fortified breakfast cereals (ie, Weetbix) and wholegrain breads
- vegetables: greens (spinach, silverbeet, lettuce), beans and peas, pumpkin and sweet potatoes
- chickpeas, beans, lentils
- some nuts.
Tips for increasing iron absorption
Vitamin C can increase the absorption of non-haem iron. So, when you eat plant foods that contain iron also eat foods high in vitamin C, like kiwifruit, citrus fruit, tomatoes and broccoli.
If you have low iron levels, do not drink tea, coffee or wine with your meal. The tannin in these drinks binds to the iron in the foods you are eating, so less can be absorbed and used by your body.
Wait at least one hour after eating.
If you require iron supplements do not take too much as it can be harmful. Taking too much iron in the form of supplements may lead to:
- stomach pain.
Taking 20mg or less a day of iron supplement is unlikely to cause harm.
Keep all iron supplements out of the reach of children.