When we think about Iron, many of us picture Popeye – the comic sailor who simply popped a can of spinach to increase his iron and his strength.
Whilst Popeye has been touted as somewhat of a health hero (we’ve somehow overlooked his tendency towards chain smoking), a lot of us are still unclear about the importance iron plays in our overall wellbeing and where to source it.
No matter the type of lifestyle you lead, iron helps regulate a number of bodily functions that make you feel strong and well. It assists in transporting oxygen through the body, with maintaining healthy enzymes (including those involved in energy production) and helps ensure our immune system remains in tip top shape.
Despite all these benefits, it’s estimated that up to five percent of the Australian population has iron deficiency anaemia. So take a moment right now to ensure you’ve got enough iron (and knowledge!):
Two Types of Iron:
There are two kinds of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is derived from haemoglobin which you’ll find in animal foods like red meats, fish, and poultry. Meanwhile, nonheme iron is derived from plant-based foods. Your body absorbs the most iron from heme sources.
Where To Get It:
In happy news for some, organ meats like liver and giblets provide some of the best sources of heme iron.
If eating organs isn’t your thing, other cuts of red meat, as well as white meats and seafood are suitable sources. Some of the best vegetarian sources of iron include chickpeas, beans and lentils, fortified cereals (there are plenty of iron-rich cereals in the supermarket aisle now) and pumpkin seeds.
Iron supplements, most conveniently in the form of tablets, are also on-hand for those that need a boost.
When You Need It:
Iron is essential at all stages of life, but especially so for:
- Teenage girls
- Women (who lose more iron than men)
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Vegetarians and vegans
- Athletes in training
- Regular blood donors
- People with chronic diseases such as cancer and auto-immune diseases
Iron requirements differ between people depending on their age, gender and lifestyle. The National Health and Medical Research Council has made a number of recommendations by life stage and gender which you can see here.
Don’t run low on iron! If you suspect your iron levels are low or you have any questions, seek advice from your medical practitioner.