Iron is an important mineral that is often overlooked. Its major role is to carry oxygen throughout the body.
A diet low in iron can lead to iron deficiency, which limits the transport of oxygen to cells and can elicit symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, pale skin and getting sick more often.
Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world with an estimated 80 per cent being deficient. On the flip side, too much iron can be toxic.
Certain groups of people are more prone to iron deficiency. This includes women of a child-bearing age or who are pregnant, women with heavy menstrual losses, toddlers, teenage girls, endurance athletes and blood donors.
Vegetarians or vegans may also be at risk of iron deficiency, even if their total iron intake is sufficient. This is because non-heme iron found in plant-based foods is not as well absorbed as heme-iron found in animal-based foods.
However, there are ways that you can boost non-heme iron absorption if your daily intake of iron (especially heme iron) is low, when you are losing a lot of iron (i.e. during menstruation) or when you have higher needs (i.e. during pregnancy). This includes adding a vitamin C source at every meal, such citrus fruits, strawberries, melons, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and snow peas.
Combining heme-iron sources (meat, fish, poultry, and seafood) with non-heme iron sources (dark leafy greens, legumes, iron fortified whole grains, eggs, dairy, dried fruit, nuts and seeds) can also enhance non-heme iron absorption.
People who are diagnosed with low iron or iron-deficiency anemia may benefit from an iron supplement but should only take a supplement if advised by a physician.
Curious how much iron you should be getting? Click here to use our Get Enough tool.