The Importance of Iron

Do you suffer from tiredness & headaches, brittle nails and hair, breathlessness, poor appetite, poor growth and weight gain, weakness or lack of concentration? If so, you may be suffering from an iron deficiency.

Iron is an important nutrient in a diet that keeps the body healthy. Iron is also needed for the formation of healthy blood. A diet low in iron leads to iron deficiency i.e. anaemia

Dietary recommendations

  • Iron is best absorbed in the presence of vitamin C (ascorbic acid).

  • Include foods rich in vitamin C (oranges, grapefruit, guavas, tomatoes, citrus fruit, pawpaw, kiwi fruit, fresh vegetables and salads and other fruit) at each meal.

  • Avoid drinking tea, coffee, hot chocolate and caffeine containing cool drinks (colas) with meals as it decreases the amount of iron that the body can absorb.

  • Avoid taking antacids as it will also decrease iron absorption.

  • Avoid drinking excessive milk with meals.

  • Improve food choices to increase amount of dietary iron.

If iron supplements have been recommended:

  • Have supplements between meals together with foods rich in vitamin C or a vitamin C supplement.

  • Do not take supplements with tea, milk, coffee or antacids.

  • Do not stop the iron supplements because you are feeling better, unless you have been told to so by your health practitioner or dietician

Causes of iron deficiency anaemia

  • Not eating enough of the foods that contain iron.

  • Chronic blood loss e.g. bleeding ulcer, bleeding haemorrhoids, parasites (hookworms etc.), malignancy or excessive menstrual flow

  • Increased need by the body for iron e.g. during infancy, childhood (important growing years), puberty, pregnancy and when lactating (breast feeding)

  • Less iron being absorbed by the body

Foods rich in iron

Animal Sources: liver, kidney, chicken and turkey, tripe, shellfish, lean meat, fish (tinned, fresh or frozen)

Non-Animal Sources: dried fruit, nuts, molasses, wholegrain breads, dried beans and lentils, green leafy vegetables, cereals and iron-fortified cereals.

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