Our bodies do an incredible job telling us when things aren’t quite right through physical symptoms.
Yet, iron deficiency remains one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in Australia. So, do you know what signs to look for when your iron levels are low?
We’ll unpack why iron is important for the body, the signs you’re not getting enough iron in your diet and what changes you can make to up your iron intake.
Why Does the Body Need Iron?
Your body uses iron to make a protein found in red blood cells called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to your organs and tissues. If you don’t have enough hemoglobin in your body, your tissues and muscles get less oxygen, and your heart has to work harder to move oxygen-rich blood through your body. This can result in less energy and feeling tired. Therefore, iron plays a key role in producing energy and healthy immune function.
Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Iron
Here are some signs and symptoms of iron deficiency:
- Fatigue (this is the most common symptom)
- Weakness or shortness of breath
- Difficulty concentrating
- Headaches or dizziness
- Paleness on the inside of your lower eyelids
- Heart palpitations
- Dry or damaged hair, skin and nails
- Soreness or swelling of the mouth and tongue.
These symptoms are our bodies talking to us – crying out for more iron. If you suspect you’re iron deficient, be sure to see your GP and get a blood test. From there, you can make some changes in your diet to get the right iron intake for your needs.
What You Can Do if You’re Iron Deficient
Eat More Iron-Rich Foods
You can find iron from both animal and plant-based sources. Haem iron is found in animal tissue, such as chicken, fish, beef, kangaroo and lamb, and is more easily absorbed into the body. On the other hand, non-haem iron can be found in both animal sources and plant sources, such as legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, leafy greens and other vegetables.
The daily recommended iron intake is:
- 8mg/day for men over 19
- 15mg/day for girls aged 14-18
- 18mg/day for women aged 19-50.
Examples of Food Options
- 100g chicken liver = approximately 11mg iron
- 100g beef = approximately 3.5mg iron
- 30g Weet-bix = approximately 4.2mg iron
- 1 cup kidney beans = approximately 3.1mg iron.
Consider Taking Iron Supplements
While most people can get their iron needs from diet alone, some – particularly women – need to supplement their diets with iron supplements to reach their daily intake needs. While iron supplements should not be your only source of iron, they can make meeting higher iron needs hassle-free.
Some people who may need more iron than others include:
- Pregnant women
- Menstruating women
- People who experience regular blood loss
- Those taking iron-depleting medicines
- Kidney dialysis patients.
Make sure you consult your GP to see whether iron supplements are right for you before taking them.
Consume Foods that Boost Iron Absorption
There’s no point eating loads of iron if your body can’t absorb it properly. On top of eating iron-rich foods, there are a few ways you can boost your body’s ability to absorb iron, such as:
- Vitamin C
- Cook plant-based sources of iron
- Combine haem and non-haem foods (e.g. meat with beans).
Get Nutrition Savvy
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