This blog is brought to you by Jennifer Douglas from Jump Start Nutrition. Jennifer will be at the show this year and presenting a seminar about Baby-led Weaning. Make sure you book your spot to learn more.
Iron is a mineral found in every cell in our body that is critical for human health. Iron has three main functions in our bodies, which are:
To carry oxygen in the blood from the lungs around to the rest of the body
Aid in maintenance of a healthy immune system to fight off illness
Help with energy production.
Depending on age and stage of life you need different levels of iron intake:
Recommended dietary intakes iron per day (mg)
Infants (7-12 months) 11
Children (1-13 years) 8-10
Boys (14-18 years) 11
Girls (14-18 years) 15
Women (19-50 years) 18
Men (19 years and above) 8
Women (50 years or above) 8
Pregnant women 27
Breastfeeding women 8-10
Lack of iron is one of the most common deficiencies in the world and almost half the women in New Zealand from 15-44yrs are estimated to be consuming less iron than is recommended. Infants, children, teenagers, athletes, pregnant women and those following vegetarian diets are especially at risk of iron deficiency. In infants and children especially, long-term iron deficiency may have a detrimental effect on growth, development and learning ability.
By six months of age the iron stores that have been given to the infant during pregnancy have become low and introduction of iron foods such as meat/fish/lentils along with iron fortified cereals is important. An infant requires more iron than it’s father in those early years.
Possible signs of iron deficiency include tiredness and lethargy, poor growth, a reduced ability to work and concentrate, getting sick frequently, reduced sport performance and feeling the cold more.
There are two main types of iron found in foods. Haem iron is found only in animal products and is the form of iron that is best absorbed by the body. Red meat (such as beef or lamb) contains more iron per serve than white meat (chicken or fish), so include lean red meat in your diet if this is an option for you. Non-haem iron is found mainly in plant foods and is less absorbed by the body.
Below are some sources of iron:
Iron absorption can be improved with vitamin C containing foods eaten with iron foods. Adding foods such as tomatoes, capsicum and carrot to meals can help increase absorption, or offer fruit after a meal. Absorption can be reduced with tannins in tea so avoid drinking tea with a main meal. Calcium foods, such as milk, can compete for absorption with iron and should be given in-between meals.
Nutritional labels on food products may sometimes state if the product contains iron. Some labels have percentage daily value, this is the percentage of your daily needs that are met by this product. Look for products that contain more than 15% of your daily requirement of iron.
Vegetarian and vegan diets can meet iron requirements but due to low absorption of non-haem iron it is recommended that plant-based protein is eaten at least twice per day to meet requirements. For example pack your lunchbox with lentil salad and enjoy an evening meal of kidney bean and vegetable nachos.
If you have any concerns about iron levels for yourself or your family discuss this with your GP and/or registered Dietitian.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Jennifer Douglas who is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian. It is intended as a source of additional information but does not replace that of your medical professional. If you have concerns about your health, then contact your health provider.