Iron is a vital nutrient. In our diets, red meats are the richest source; it is also
found in oily fish, the dark meat of chicken and turkey and in some nuts, seeds, dried
fruits, dark green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.
The World Health Organization estimates that 600 – 700 million people are
deficient in iron, probably making it the most common nutritional deficiency disorder in
the world, in particular in developing countries. While in some of these countries, blood
loss (i.e. caused by infestation with hook worms) can be the main cause of the problem, in
western Europe, iron deficiency is usually a result of not getting enough of this mineral
in the daily diet.
The effects of poor iron intake are far reaching. Iron is needed for haemoglobin (the
red pigment in blood) to work properly and carry oxygen to all the body’s cells. One
of the first signs of low iron intake is tiredness and fatigue. Women and young girls who
eat little meat, poultry and fish or who turn completely vegetarian are particularly at
risk of running down the body’s iron reserves and experiencing symptoms of deficiency.
While approximately 8% of women are estimated to be iron deficient in the west, Dr Mike
Nelson, a nutritionist at King’s College, London University, believes that between 10
– 20 % of younger girls are affected. Although these girls often appear to be in good
health, low iron levels profoundly affect many aspects of their day to day lives,
including an ability to concentrate, and thus learn, in school. Nelson tells us, “In
tests we have carried out we think that the IQ in British girls who get enough iron in
their diets and those who are anaemic can mean the difference of a whole grade in school
“Girls who are dieting and those switching to a vegetarian diet are particularly
at risk”, explains Nelson: “New vegetarians need to be very careful in the first
year of conversion because they often cut out meat and don’t know how to replace the
iron with other foods. Women and girls who diet and go vegetarian at the same time should
think about eating iron fortified foods or even taking a modest supplement”.
Increasing iron intakes in this way could make all the difference for youngsters and
adults, from the schoolroom to the boardroom. It is known that a lack of iron leads to
impairment of brain functioning, affecting both memory and learning abilities.
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It is not only the brain that suffers from low iron intakes. Pregnant women and older
people also need to take special care. During pregnancy if iron stores are already low,
the increased demands made by the quickly growing baby in the last six months of pregnancy
may tip the balance and throw the expectant mother into a deficiency state, adversely
affecting the growth of the infant’s brain. Older people can suffer through poor diets
combined with an ageing digestive tract that finds it harder to absorb the iron that is
present in foods.
Whatever the age and sex of the individual, eventually it leads to a lowering of the
pain threshold, an interference with the body’s temperature control mechanisms, an
increased likelihood of hairloss and a decrease in the strength of the immune system,
making us more vulnerable to infections. Clearly, there are many reasons for keeping an
eye on daily iron intakes.
|Finding Out if you are Iron Deficient
Feeling constantly tired
Boosting Iron Intakes – Top Foods for Iron
(check the label)
|Dark turkey meat||120g||2mg|
|Spring greens steamed||90g||1mg|
The body absorbs approximately 25% of the iron
Iron absorption is lowered when eaten with the following foods. Try to eat these