The importance of iron in your diet

Iron is essential for transporting oxygen around the body. It also plays a key role in immune
function. [1] There are two types of iron that can be obtained from food. Haem iron which is
more easily absorbed which comes from animal foods and non-haem iron that mostly
comes from plant-based food. [1]


What is iron deficiency anaemia?
Anaemia occurs when there are low levels of haemoglobin in your red blood cells.
Haemoglobin is the protein that carry’s oxygen to your tissues. Iron deficiency anaemia
occurs when there is not enough iron in the body which is required to make haemoglobin.
[1] Therefore, when there is less iron, there will be less haemoglobin and less oxygen
required for cells to function. Generally iron deficiency anaemia is more common in women
due to the loss of iron in blood during menstruation or pregnancy. However even a poor
diet, internal bleeding, gut associated diseases or even genetics can affect iron absorption
resulting in iron deficiency anaemia. [1,2]
Some individuals have no symptoms and some experience several symptoms due to iron
deficiency anaemia. Common symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include;
• Tiredness
• Dizziness
• Pale skin
• Breathlessness
• Rapid or irregular heart beat
• Cold extremities
• Brittle nails


Tips to consider when consuming iron rich food sources [3,4]
• Consuming a combination of animal foods rich in iron along with plant-based iron
sources, helps to increase the absorption of the non-haem iron from the plant-based
sources.
• If you’re vegetarian or vegan it is important to obtain iron from non-haem plantbased
food sources. Therefore, combining vitamin C rich food such as citrus fruits,
tomato, capsicum, bell-peppers, strawberries, limes, oranges etc. can increase the
iron absorption when consumed together with non-haem plant-based iron sources.
• Food rich in calcium as well as tea, coffee, wine can hinder iron absorption.
Therefore, avoid pairing these foods when consuming iron rich food and consider
consuming these foods at alternate times.
• Haem sources of iron: red meat, canned sardines, salmon, pork, barramundi, skinless
chicken.
• Non-haem sources of iron: firm tofu, rolled oats, eggs, spinach, raw cashews,
chickpeas, lentils, apricots, chia seeds, gotukola, sarana, murunga leaves,
kathurumurunga, thampala, red rice.


Iron supplements, infusions and injections [1]
• Iron supplements can help restore iron levels in the body and will be prescribed by
your doctor if necessary. Do not self-diagnose yourself and consume iron
supplements, as too much iron in your blood can cause other health conditions,
which can be dangerous.
• Some iron supplements can cause side effects such as stomach pain, constipation,
black stools, heartburn, nausea and vomiting. Therefore, speak to your doctor if
you’re experiencing any side effects.
• Iron infusions can also be recommended to you by your doctor if you can’t take the
medication by mouth or if you’re required to increase iron levels quickly to avoid any
medical complications.
• Iron injections are also available for serious cases and will deliver a full dose of iron
immediately and can also be prescribed by your doctor if necessary.

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