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Constantly Feeling Tired. Are You Getting Enough Iron?
Are you constantly feeling tired? There are many reasons why you may be lacking energy, but looking at your diet is a great place to start. One often overlooked place to begin is to specifically look at how much iron is in your diet. Why? Well an iron deficiency can cause fatigue as your body becomes unable to make enough health oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
So where do you get your Iron from? Not sure? Here’s what you need to know.
Did you know that there are two different types of dietary iron?
Heme and non-heme.
Before you think it’s about to get complicated, relax. The difference is simple. Heme iron is derived from haemoglobin (i.e. animal source), and non-heme does not.
Why is this important?
Well depending on where you’re getting your iron from, the ability for your body to absorb it varies considerably.
For example, heme iron derived from animals sources is not affected by other things that you eat. Your body also absorbs around 15 – 35% from the food you eat. This is different from vegan sources of iron.
Unfortunately non heme iron is not absorbed as well (e.g. lentils, beans and spinach), and only 2-20% makes its way into your body. Its absorption is also affected by other foods, so you need to be careful as to what you’re eating at the same time. Items such as coffee, tea, milk, and foods high in calcium can actually inhibit iron absorption. I’ve also learnt from personal experience that fructose mal-absorption can cause an iron deficiency.
Why Iron is so important?
Before we talk about recommended sources of iron, let’s cover off what Iron does and why it is so important.
Iron is an essential mineral (meaning you’d die without it), with it’s main role to help transport oxygen around your body. If your body becomes unable to make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, then fatigue and constantly feeling tired can occur.
To check whether iron is the reason behind your low energy, have a chat to your GP who can order a blood test to find out.
Where can you get your iron?
So now you know why you need it, where can you get it from?
How much iron you need varies by person, and depends on age, gender and overall health. Children need more than adults, and woman (before menopause) need more than men as we lose iron during our period.
Heme iron can be found in any food source that contains haemoglobin (the iron-containing protein in red blood cells) so meat is a prime source. For vegetarians it becomes especially important you’re consuming enough iron, especially with its lower absorption rate. Good non-heme sources include legumes, tofu, some dark leafy vegetables, seeds, prunes, raisins and black strap molasses.
It’s good to know that your body is actually pretty efficient at storing iron, with around 90% being recovered and reused daily.
And my top tip for vegetarians? Make sure to consume foods high in vitamin C at the same time as it facilitates a reaction that enhances absorption.