Every cell in your body requires oxygen to produce energy. The haemoglobin moving around in your blood needs iron to transport that oxygen. Your cells produce less energy if there is not enough iron available. This results in fatigue or even exhaustion.
Iron deficiency is one of the world’s biggest diet related health issues with an estimated 2 billion people suffering from anaemia (iron deficiency). Women are particularly at risk as they lose blood each month, require more iron during pregnancy and tend to eat less red meat than men.
Deficiency can have a flow on effect with studies showing that iron deficiency can be closely related to depression and your memory can also be effected by iron levels.
Iron comes in two forms. Haem iron is easily absorbed and is found in animal products (meat). Non haem iron is found in non-animal products and isn’t as easily absorbed.
Although widely available in many food sources, non-haem iron is processed differently to haem. It is transported by a different protein molecule and needs to go through several steps before it can be converted into a form where cells are able to take up.
Due to this more complex process, non-haem iron is not as readily absorbed as haem iron which is converted in just one step. To counter this, many foods are fortified with iron to ensure a small top up of non-haem iron in a varied diet.
Red meat is the best source of haem iron mainly because the haemoglobin and myoglobin in the animal are consumed and easily absorbed.
Good sources or non-haem iron include brown rice, wheat and oats as well as green leafy vegetables such as cooked spinach and broccoli and Chinese greens. Some other good iron sources include beans and peas (particularly soybeans and lentils), nuts and seeds, quinoa, beetroot and beetroot leaves, artichoke, avocado, olives and figs.
The absorption of iron is a little tricky but studies have shown that vitamin C is iron’s best friend. Both haem and non-haem iron is absorbed much better when consumed with food or drinks containing vitamin C.
Malabsorption appears to occur when iron is consumed with or close to coffee, tea or wine (particularly red wine) as these drinks contain tannins. Surprisingly, these products comprise a reasonable level or iron but the tannins prevent all of the iron from being absorbed. Calcium also competes with iron so becomes another inhibitor of iron absorption. Therefore it is best to avoid dairy during an iron-rich meal.
Many cereals are fortified with iron for an additional boost so milk is not always the best accompaniment. Try your cereal with a blend of acai and some fresh fruit to give you a vitamin C punch as well as helping to absorb the iron.