Updated: Oct 20
You may have heard people say they feel tired, and blame it on low iron, but what does iron actually do for us?
Iron is used in many processes in the body, but most iron is used to form haemoglobin, a part of red blood cells. Haemoglobin is what carries oxygen around the body. If you have low iron, you aren't able to make as much haemaglobin and this can lead to low levels of red blood cells. When this happens, we can feel tired and sluggish, out of breath and have poor concentration.
Where do we get iron from?
Meat is the highest source of iron, so including lots of red meat, turkey, chicken, pork, eggs and offal in your diet helps to keep your iron levels up.
Iron from animal sources is known as "heme iron", which is more easily absorbed by the body than the "non-heme iron" which is found in plant foods.
If you are low on iron, and you eat animal products, including some more meat in your diet will help you top up your iron levels.
You can boost your absorption of iron-rich foods or iron tablets by eating or drinking something high in vitamin C at the same time, think strawberries or orange juice.
What about plant sources?
Though plant sources are not as easily absorbed by the body, they are an important part of a healthy diet. This is particularly true for those of us who don't eat meat.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, be sure to include an iron source with at least two meals a day.
Veggie sources of iron include leafy greens, lentils and beans, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
Avoid having iron rich foods or iron tablets with calcium foods, like milk, as calcium reduces iron absorption.
What does iron deficiency look like?
If you are not getting enough iron, you can develop a type of anemia. Anemia is when you have low levels of red blood cells in the body. Iron is essential in the development of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around our bodies - so they have a VERY important role!
When you have iron deficiency anaemia, you will likely feel very tired, you may look paler than usual and become short of breath easily. Headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations and skin or hair changes are all symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia.
If you think you may have iron deficiency, you can easily get a blood test from your GP. An infusion (IV) of iron will boost iron levels severe cases, and it is important to take a look at your diet to see if you should make changes. An ongoing iron supplement may also help.