Are You Feeling Tired? Is the Iron in Your Diet Part of the Solution?

It is estimated that 1 in 5 women in Australia are at risk of iron deficiency. An Australian health survey collected blood samples from women between the ages of 16 and 44 and showed that about 25% were at risk of suffering symptoms associated with low iron. Symptoms of deficiency can include fatigue, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, decreased endurance and changes of mood that make it difficult to deal with the day to day stress of everyday life.

Lean meat products as the best bioavailable source of iron and as such the Australian dietary guidelines recommend two and a half servings of them each day. One serving is the equivalent of 65g of red meat or poultry or about 100g of fish. If you don’t consume animal products and don’t replace them with plant sources of iron you are at particular risk of low iron. Suitable meat replacements are legumes such as lentils, chick peas, soy beans, pinto beans and lima beans. Some seeds are also relatively high in iron such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds (tahini). It is also important to consider those foods that can decrease or increase your body’s ability to absorb iron. Drinking tea or coffee with your meal may decrease your ability to absorb the iron you are consuming. Inversely eating vitamin C rich foods with your meal will increase your ability to absorb the iron you are consuming.

Some people who are particularly iron deficient may also require iron supplementation in addition to an iron rich diet. Daily iron supplementation may not be such a straight forward solution for some. Some people report gastrointestinal side effects such as constipation when taking iron supplements. In these people intermittent intake (ie every other day) may be the best alternative to daily iron supplementation.

For more information on specific iron requirements by gender and age p187 of Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand contains more detailed information.

Important Facts in a Snapshot:

  • Get your daily requirements from just two and a half servings of lean meat daily.
  • One serving is the equivalent of 65g of red meat or poultry or about 100g of fish.
  • Animal product replacements include legumes such as lentils, chick peas, soy beans, pinto beans and lima beans and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
  • Other foods high in iron include organ meat, oysters, muscles, green leafy vegetables, molasses, tomato paste and dried apricots.
  • Don’t consume tea, coffee or red wine within an hour of eating as it may inhibit iron absorbtion.
  • Include foods rich in vitamin C with meals to aid your absorption of iron.

About Ian Murray

Ian is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioner at Kenmore Centre for Health. This website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such.
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