In last week's What I Ate Wednesday I focussed on B12 and said how it was in key in creating iron. And what an important thing iron is!
Its main function is producing haemoglobin, which is what carries oxygen around our bodies. But did you also know that once it's dropped the oxygen off it then picks up carbon dioxide to take back to the lungs?! I sure didn't! No wonder we feel so exhausted when we have an iron deficiency.
Iron also plays a role in converting sugars in our blood into energy. This is something that happens all day long, but is particularly key when we are doing exercise and we need more energy quickly.
And one more thing: it also helps in the production of enzymes which help produce important things such as new cells and amino acids which are vital in the exercise recovery.
Add to that a function in helping DNA creation and a role in our immune systems, and iron is quite the important mineral!
Iron is not something that our bodies can create themselves, which means it's essential to have in our diets.
If we become iron deficient, this is known as anaemia. Anaemia is meant to be one of the most common mineral deficiencies across the world, affecting mostly women. The reason women are mostly affected is that during our periods we lose blood, sometimes quite a lot. All the iron that was in this blood gets lost too. Pregnant women also are more likely to get anaemia as you're needing extra iron to ensure the baby gets all the blood he or she needs. Other causes are internal bleeding around the stomach, or diseases such as Crohn's.
All of this can cause us to:
- feel tired and lethargic
- have a pale complexion
- experience shortness of breath
The strength of these symptoms depends on how much iron you're lacking, but can be pretty noticeable even at small amounts. When I was diagnosed with anaemia recently I had basically zero iron in my system, and sometimes I didn't even feel I could take another step. My nurse said to me that she was surprised I could even get up in the morning! As a result I ended up taking time off work - an entire week to start with, and then reduced hours for another month. Not exactly ideal!
Iron deficiency is pretty easy to treat with iron tablets. You'll probably be needing something that has a far higher dosage than something you'll find on the shelves in Boots or Holland and Barrett. The highest dosage of iron tablet I could see on Holland and Barrett was 15mg, and I'm on 210mg 3 times a day as prescribed my doctor. It's best to take these with something with vitamin C in, as this helps the body take in the iron, but avoid tea as the tannins may impede absorption. The tablets can have some side effects, normally affecting digestion through either diarrohea or constipation, and they make your poop turn a bit green, but they're definitely worth it if you're feeling the symptoms of anaemia!
Obviously prevention is better than cure, and if we've been anaemic we need to be knowing how we can naturally be getting iron in our diets. Our recommended daily allowance is 8.7mg for men and post-menopausal women, and 14.8mg for pre-menopausal ladies. Exra is needed if you're pregnant. The majority of women are not deemed to meet their requirements.
Before I go into the best sources of iron, I want to talk about the different types of iron that we can find in our foods:
- Haem iron is found in animal products. It is the most easily absorbed form or iron
- Non-haem iron is that which is found in plant products, and is much harder to absorb. This is where getting your vitamin C can help out.
So what are your best meat-related food sources:
- Beef = 3.5mg per 100g
- Sardines = 2.9mg per 100g
For non-meat sources:
- Lentils = 6.6mg per cup
- Spinach = 6.4mg per cup
- Swiss chard = 4mg per cup
- Tofu = 3mg per 4oz
- Cumin = 2.8mg per 2 tsp
- Dark chocolae and dried fruits are also pretty good sources - any excuse to eat chocolate, just make sure it's good quality dark chocolate
So if we had a cup of spinach and a cup of lentils every day, ignoring everything else, we'd be almost there for us girls on our iron intake! (Though it's always best to exceed your recommended amount due to the point about not always absorbing the iron).
So what did I eat today and where did my iron come from?
Breakfast was nuts and the yummiest strawberries ever. Strawberries are packed with vitamin C to help iron absorption.
I've never been a massive fan of strawberries (unless they were strawberry flavoured sweets) but this year every strawberry I eat seems to be the most yummy thing ever!
Lunch was salad and these sweet potato chips. I had lentils in my salad which added to my iron levels, and the vitamin C in the strawberries will have helped with its absorption.
Had a berry Nakd bar this afternoon as for some reason I was feeling really shaky so thought a sugar boost might help. Then dinner I had a tomato salad with extra spinach and some not so healthy tomato and mozzarella pastries.
Really need to watch my fat, and a bit scared by the number of calories. But I think I did quite well on my iron intake :)
Hope you had good days!