Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the World, affecting about 25% of Women.
Not consuming enough red meat or predominately plant-based.
Certain medications affecting absorption.
Iron deficiency is increasing due to the growth of plant-based / vegetarian diets and a reduction in red meat consumption. Women who are vegetarian or vegan have a lower iron status compared to those that eat meat. This is also compounded by the decreased bioavailability of vegetarian foods.
Haem and Non-haem iron
There are two forms of dietary iron: The most efficiently absorbed form of iron is haem which is only found in animal foods such as meat, poultry and fish. The other form, non-haem is found in plant foods. This iron is in the oxidised form and must first be reduced to ferrous iron for optimal absorption.
Signs and symptoms of inadequate iron can include:
Shortness of breath
Intolerance to cold
Restless leg syndrome
Pica (craving and or eating unusual substances)
If you think you are iron deficient get your iron levels tested by uour GP.
Don’t take an iron supplement unless you are deficient.
Including more iron-rich foods
Chilli – especially red and green
Liver/kidney - esp chicken, lamb, veal
The main inhibitor of iron is phytates, or phytic acid, which is usually found in legumes, nuts, wholegrain cereals and unprocessed bran. Processing the wholegrains removes much of the phytate content but also other beneficial nutrients such as iron and zinc.
Soaking and sprouting legumes, grains, nuts and seeds helps reduce phytate levels.
The most significant enhancer of iron absorption is Vitamin C. This can increase iron absorption up to six times in those with low iron.
Taking an iron supplement
Many women do need to take an iron supplement at various times in their lives.
Ferrous sulphate is the most popular iron supplement, but its side effects can include constipation or other gastrointestinal disturbances. That is the reason many women stop taking iron supplements.
A better form of non-haem iron is ferrous glycinate.
Please get in touch if you have any questions.
1. Murray, M., & Pizzomo, J. (2014). The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (3rd ed.). Simon & Schuster.
2. Saunders, A., Craig, W., Baines, S., & Posen, J. (2013). Iron and vegetarian diets. Medical Journal Of Australia, 199(S4). doi: 10.5694/mja11.11494