10 Tips To Improve Your Iron Intake

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Fatigue, lethargy, frequent infections and reduced resistance to cold. It may surprise you that these commonplace symptoms are often caused by iron deficiency and can be easily avoided by increasing your iron intake. If you have ongoing concerns about your health, you need to see your GP, or for tailored nutrition advice, see a Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist. 

Follow these ten simple steps to make sure your daily intake is adequate:

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EAT RED MEAT AND VEGETABLE TOGETHER

Eat a combination of red meat and plant foods (vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, fruits). Eating meat with plant foods will also help the body use more of the non-haem iron by up to four times. Examples of iron-rich meals include meat and vegetable stir-fry, a meat sauce with pasta and vegetables, or a lean beef or lamb salad sandwich.

GET PLENTY OF VITAMIN C

Vitamin C helps the body to absorb non-haem iron from a meal – the type of iron found in plant foods and a proportion of animal foods. Include plenty of fruit and vegetables with your meals as they are rich in vitamin C.

NOT ALL IRON IS EQUAL

There are two types of iron in food: haem iron (found in meat and fish) and non-haem iron (found in both plant and animal foods). The body absorbs the haem iron in animal foods more efficiently than the non-haem iron in plant foods. For example 1cup of cooked silverbeet contains 0.4mg of iron, but the body can only use about 5-12% of this. In comparison, 120g of cooked lean beef rump contains 3.5mg of iron and the body absorbs around 15-25% of it. You would need to eat a massive 19 cups of cooked silverbeet to get the same amount of absorbable iron provided by a serve of 120g of lean beef rump steak. Both provide a third of a women’s daily absorbable iron needs. Other examples for an iron boost include a moderate serving of spaghetti bolognaise or a couple small lamb leg steaks.

SEE RED

Red meats are richer in haem iron than white meat, poultry and fish – generally the redder the meat, the higher the iron content so enjoy lean New Zealand grass-fed beef and lamb 3-4 times per week for a top iron intake.

KEEP YOUR MEALS TANNIN FREE

It is better to drink tea and coffee between meals, rather than with your meals. The tannin in tea, and to lesser extent coffee, reduces the amount of iron we can use from food.

EXTRA IRON FOR EXERCISE

You need extra iron if you exercise strenuously and often. Have your iron levels checked regularly and ensure your diet is balanced and varied, including lots of foods high in haem iron. Haem iron-rich foods include red meat, liver and mussels. For those on diets without meat, include a combination of lentils, pulses, wholegrains, nuts and seeds regularly.

BEWARE OF DIETING

Studies show girls and women on restricted or low calorie diets generally miss out on getting enough of their daily iron requirements. Remember, lean red meat is relatively low in calories yet high in iron and protein, and can be included as part of an overall healthy and balanced diet.

DON’T RELY ON SUPPLEMENTS

The iron in pills or supplements and fortified foods such as breakfast cereal is poorly absorbed. Don’t rely on these for your total daily iron needs, and only use supplements if advised by your doctor.

CHOOSE FROM THE FOUR MAIN FOOD GROUPS

A sure way to improve your iron intake is to eat a varied, balanced and healthy diet emphasised on whole, less ultra-processed foods. Each day you should eat a variety of foods from the main foods groups: fruits and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals dairy products and red meat, fish, chicken or protein alternatives (eg beans, lentils, eggs or tofu).

BE EXTRA IRON SMART IF YOU'RE AT RISK

Infants, girls and women who have periods, teenagers, pregnant and nursing mothers, sports people, vegetarians and the elderly are most at risk of being iron deficient. Learn how to cook appealing, iron-rich dishes to suit you and your family. Here are some ideas to get you started www.recipes.co.nz