Iron is an essential mineral, responsible for various functions in the body. However, its primary responsibility is the production of red blood cells (RBC). RBC transports inhaled oxygen from the lungs to the different tissues in the body and carry carbon dioxide from these tissues back to the lungs to be exhaled. Iron also plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of energy levels, muscle function and DNA synthesis.
Dietary iron is crucial to avoid fatigue, weakness and even iron deficiency anaemia. In some cases, individuals may not take in adequate amounts of iron from their diet and may resort to iron supplements. It is important that you consult your physician about taking iron supplements; evidence has shown that too much iron can lead to health problems including diabetes, arthritis, liver and cardiovascular problems.
There are two forms of dietary iron: haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal products such as red meat, fish poultry and is readily absorbed by the body. Non-haem iron is found in plant-based food products including green vegetables and lentils; it is not well absorbed by the body in comparison.
What you eat or do not eat may be the reason you are experiencing low iron levels. In general, your diet should consist of varied food sources from all the major food groups to ensure it is healthy and balanced. Furthermore, in order to maintain adequate iron levels, it is important that your diet is well balanced with vitamin C-rich foods as Vitamin C induces iron absorption. When vitamin C-rich foods are combined with non-haem food sources, absorption of the iron is significantly increased. Excellent sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, melons, bell peppers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.
Some iron-rich food sources include: Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, iron-fortified cereals and bread, brown rice, dried fruits like dried apricots and prunes, white and red meat, fish and tofu.
It is possible that regular tea or coffee drinkers may have low iron levels. Early studies have demonstrated the effect of tea and coffee on iron absorption. It has been shown that such beverages contain a compound called tannins. Tannins play a key role in preventing iron absorption and subsequently in the pathogenesis of iron deficiency. This has further been supported by findings from further research which has demonstrated the negative effect excessive tea consumption has on oral iron treatment in iron deficiency anaemia. We all love our teas and coffees; this is not to say you should stop drinking them! Rather, be mindful of your consumption particularly during mealtimes to increase iron absorption.
It is also important to be cautious about the food you eat as certain food products may also hinder iron absorption. Most commonly, excessive consumption of dairy products. Dairy products contain calcium which also reduces iron absorption. Calcium is crucial for maintaining healthy bones, teeth and gums; it is important to find the best balance. The Eatwell guide shows the proportion of food groups that form a healthy balanced diet with it stating that we should have 'some dairy or dairy alternatives'.
Though there are other reasons for low iron levels in the body like in women of childbearing age, heavy menstruation and pregnancy are some of the main causes due to high iron requirements. Also, different types of medicine including antacids or stomach-acid lowering medicine preventing your body from absorbing iron. Increasing your iron intake through your diet and consuming more foods that increase iron absorption may be key.
If you think you may have low iron levels, go to your GP to request for a blood test. Also your GP or any healthcare professional will give you further advice on how to up your iron intake if your blood iron levels are low.
* This article was originally published in my website Enhlife.