FACTFILE: IRON

What is it?

Iron is a micromineral, or trace mineral, needed by the body for loads of different physiological functions. It’s deficiency is the most common, in both the UK and global population and can have some nasty side effects.

There are two types of iron: haem and non-haem. Haem iron is more useful to the body as it is more readily absorbed compared with non-haem iron, so is more effective in completing the physiological functions below.

What do we need it for?

Iron is used for oxygen transfer in the body by being a major component of haemoglobin, the protein which carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and working muscles.

Iron also helps make a protein called myoglobin which binds to oxygen in the muscles for storage.

The oxygen is then used to release energy, with help of cytochrome proteins which aid energy transfer and contains iron groups.

So, the mineral is pretty important in preventing fatigue.

It also has roles in the immune system as it helps produce white blood cells, which engulf and kill any invading bacteria.

Where can we get it?

Haem iron is present in animal sources:

  • Liver
  • Red meat
  • White meat
  • Fish

Non-haem iron is present in plant sources:

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • White bread (note that although this is higher in iron, it lacks fibre which is also important in the diet)
  • Green vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit

How much do we need?

Men need 8.7mg/day

Women need 14.8mg/day

Women need more due to larger losses.

  • Chicken liver (100g) – 9.2mg
  • Lean beef (125g) – 3.38mg
  • Roasted chicken (100g) – 0.7mg
  • Roasted lamb (90g) – 1.71mg
  • One slice white bread – 0.54mg
  • 30g fortified cornflakes – 3.54mg
  • 85g broccoli – 0.51mg
  • 30g almonds – 0.9mg
  • 30g cashew nuts – 1.86mg
  • 1/2 can baked beans – 1.92mg
  • 1/2 can kidney beans – 2.20mg

IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE;

  • Try increasing your vitamin C intake if you are lower on iron; vitamin C makes iron more absorbable in the body.
  • Iron has many inhibitors which keep it insoluble so less is absorbed; it is important to avoid these in iron-rich meals. Foods containing these inhibitors include:
    • Wholegrains – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t cut these out of your diet as wholegrain foods are really important for increasing fibre, just think about WHAT they are consumed with (don’t eat them with iron rich foods).
    • Tea – Again, can be consumed but avoid with iron-rich meals.
    • Coffee – Same as tea.
    • Chocolate – Avoid with iron-rich meals.
    • Spinach – It is a common misconception that spinach is high in iron, it is often used as a source of iron by vegetarians and vegans, but it contains oxalic acid which stops absorption.
    • Egg yolks – Again, eggs are seen as a source high in iron, but they contain phosphates which inhibit absorption.

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