Think back to your high school chemistry days, iron is Fe on the periodic table, so we like to think of it as our feel good mineral.
It's required for almost 200 biochemical reactions in the body, such as thyroid function, neurotransmitter production, mood regulation, hair growth and energy production.
Adequate levels of iron allow our body to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Low levels or anaemia, will classically leave us feeling weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath and fatigued or just downright bone tired, although some people never experience any side effects.
"The World Health Organisation recognises iron deficiency as the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world."
The World Health Organisation recognises iron deficiency as the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world. It is also the only nutrient deficiency which affects people in both developing and developed countries.
Who needs more iron and how much do we need?
The World Health Organisation estimates that one-third of all women of reproductive age are anaemic, 40% of pregnant women and over 40% of children under 5 years of age! Essentially anyone in a stage of rapid growth and development and any menstruating or pregnant women would benefit from more iron in their daily diet.
The recommended dietary intake (RDI) of iron for women of reproductive age is 18mg per day - this goes up to 27mg when you are pregnant. Beef, which is one of the best sources of iron contains 5.8mg of iron per 178g fillet, to reach the RDI by eating vegetarian source, you'd be looking at around 400g of tofu!
That's not to say everyone needs more iron. Low and high levels bring their own problems. High iron levels are also possible, more often seen in men, especially as they age. If you are worried about your iron levels, we recommend going in to talk with your GP and having your levels tested with a quick blood test.
So, how can we increase our iron intake?
Do you remember being told to eat red meat as a child for iron? That is because there are two forms of iron, Heme iron which is derived from animal sources (classically our red meats) and nonheme iron which is our plant sources (legumes, vegetables and fruit).
These forms have different chemical structures. Our heme (animal) sources are more readily absorbed in the body, we call this bioavailable. Nonheme (plant) sources aren't as easily absorbed.
"Eating a source of vitamin C alongside your iron source will help to unlock the benefits and improve its bioavailability."
In the body there are also minerals and nutrients that work together as synergistic pairs. Iron and vitamin C are one of those pairs. Eating a source of vitamin C alongside your iron source will help to unlock the benefits and improve its bioavailability. In our pulled beef taco recipe we have suggested tomatoes and capsicum as toppings, both are great sources of vitamin C to help support the absorption of iron from the pulled beef.
B vitamins also help with the absorption of iron and further assist the body in the production of hemoglobin. You can find these in meat (especially liver), seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, legumes, leafy greens and seeds.
Sources of iron
Heme iron sources: Meat, particularly red meat such a beef and lamb.
Good nonheme iron sources: Sprouted legumes such as lentils, beans and tofu.
Okay nonheme iron sources (you would need a lot of these): Green leafy veggies (spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, silverbeet, etc.), nuts, seeds, tahini, dried fruit and eggs.
Iron supplements: Look for forms of iron bisglycinate, it's highly bioavailable and doesn't cause constipation. We think Iron Restore is pretty awesome.