We all know we should be eating the best iron-rich foods to maximise energy levels.
Without iron, our bodies lack the essential nutrient that forms haemoglobin. This is the key protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to vital organs – literally keeping us alive.
Healthy iron levels ensure optimum blood flow, making skin glow and giving you the vitality to do the things you love effortlessly.
But before you start popping iron pills, consider this:
Is a packaged supplement really the best remedy or can simply tweaking your diet solve your tiredness issues once and for all?
How to know when you lack iron
These are telltale signs that your liver – the organ that stores iron – is lacking this energy-giving element. In a US study, researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine found severely iron deficient people (anaemic) nine times more likely to suffer from restless legs syndrome.
Other low-iron symptoms include:
- unshakeable fatigue
- brittle nails
- heart palpitations
- cravings to consume ice, clay or paper
- passing pink urine (beeturia)
But supplements aren’t always a safe, straightforward solution.
A study reveals up to 70 per cent of people on iron tablets report stomach problems. Further research has shown, if you’re pregnant, overdosing on iron could make you more prone to gestational diabetes.
It’s hard to overdose on iron through diet alone but taking supplements could push levels to dangerous heights, aggravating genetic conditions such as hemochromatosis and making women more susceptible to heart disease.
I’ve always believed you reap all the iron you need (18mg for women aged 19-50 and up to 27mg for pregnant mums) from a balanced healthy diet – and research backs this up. But it’s not as simple as selecting and eating the best iron-rich foods. Certain foods and drinks help but they also hinder iron absorption.
But tannins and acids from drinks like cocoa, tea (including green tea), coffee and red wine can block the body’s intake of iron – up to 60% for coffee and 90% for cocoa. So it’s advisable to consume these at least an hour before or after eating.
Poor gut health, phytates (an antioxidant) and fibres in wholegrains can also reduce mineral absorption (unless pre-soaked and cooked) while calcium (dairy), soy and phosphorus can limit the penetration of plant-sourced iron. Weirdly, camel milk is an exception as it has more Vitamin C and ten times the iron content of cow’s milk.
The good news? Despite around a third of the world’s population suffering from iron deficient anaemia (according to the World Health Organisation) – it is easily preventable by eating the freshest and best iron-rich foods. So here they are:
Top 15 best iron-rich foods
- Red meat: Chicken liver, beef, kangaroo. Most iron in our diet comes from plant foods rather than meat. Top tip: curry powder can really help.
- Seafood: Oysters, mussels, sardines. These are a rich source of protein and iron.
- Plants: Swiss chard and spinach (beautify breakfast with this iron-packed super-smoothie). Did you know vegetarians are no less likely to develop anaemia than meat-eaters? Top tip: cooking plant-based foods first helps release more iron.
- Seeds: Sesame seeds are rich in iron. Top tip: tahini dressings and dips are a delicious addition to your diet.
- Pulses & grains: Fortified breakfast cereals, kidney beans, lentils. A broad selection of beans and harvested crops will keep you firing on all cylinders.
- See this list for the amount of iron in different foods per 100g.
(Click infographic to enlarge)