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What is iron and why do we need it?

February 23, 2017

Iron is an essential mineral, which has several important roles in our body. It helps to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body and it also helps our bodies to digest foods. It also helps the immune system to help to provide protection from disease and infection.

 

What is anaemia?

 

A lack of iron from the diet can result in anaemia. The main symptoms of anaemia are tiredness and fatigue, which can impair the ability to carry out physical work. Anaemia can also cause breathlessness and affect memory.

 

Who is most at risk of Anaemia?

 

Young children, pregnant women, teenage girls and women of childbearing age (due to menstruation) and vegetarians are most at risk. Some weight loss diets (such as crash diets) may also not provide enough nutrients, including iron so it is important to eat a balanced diet whilst trying to lose weight to ensure your body receives a wide range of nutrients in order to remain healthy.

 

How can I make sure I am getting enough iron in my diet?

 

Most people should be able to get all the iron they need from a balanced and varied diet. A healthy balanced diet should include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, meals based on starchy foods, moderate of amounts of low fat milk and dairy products, and moderate amounts of foods that are good sources of protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils and just sparing amounts of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Our bodies absorb iron from meat, poultry and fish more efficiently than iron from plant sources such as fruits and vegetables.

 

Tea contains “Tannins” which make it more difficult for our bodies to absorb iron so try not to drink tea within an hour either side of mealtimes.

 

How much iron do I need?

  • 8.7mg a day for men

  • 14.8mg day for women aged 19-50

  • 8.7mg for women over 50

What foods contain the best sources of iron in the diet?

 

Fruit and vegetables - Dried fruits e.g. currants, figs, apricots, sultanas, prunes (try to limit to a small handful a couple of times a week when trying to lose weight), spinach, cabbage, kale, broccoli

 

Breads, cereals and potatoes (Starchy foods) - Fortified breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, wholemeal flour, oatmeal, soya flour

 

Meat, Fish and alternatives - Eggs, all meats, poultry, oily fish/seafood and beans and pulses e.g. dahl, chana, moong, urid, lentils and baked beans

 

Include plenty of Vitamin C in your diet

 

Vitamin C helps our bodies to absorb iron so aim to include a food high in Vitamin C at each meal. This is particularly important if you don’t eat meat.

 

Vegetables - Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, runner beans, peas, okra, peppers, watercress, parsley

 

Fruit - Oranges, satsumas, grapefruits, lemons and their fruit juices. Strawberries, raspberries, kiwis, pineapple, blackberries, gooseberries, mangoes, guavas, papaya, blackcurrants

 

Potatoes - Particularly new potatoes

 

Note: Try to buy fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as possible because if they are stored for long periods the Vitamin C will be lost. When cooking try to steam or use minimal water and do not overcook.

 

 

What if I follow a vegetarian diet?

 

Vegetarians diets need to be well planned and should aim to include three sources of iron a day. Iron rich foods include:-

  • Pulses such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya beans

  • Green vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli, spring greens and okra

  • Wholemeal bread

  • Fortified breakfast cereals e.g. Bran flakes, Weetabix, Cornflakes

  • Dried fruit such as prunes, apricots, figs and sultanas (but when trying to lose weight try to limit to a small handful a couple of times a week)

 

 

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