After feeling unusually tired and super low in energy for a few months, I went for a check-up at my GP surgery. More than just feeling over-worked, my muscles were fatigued and I was needing more sleep than usual. After a blood test we found I had low levels of iron stores.
Iron is actually a very tricky mineral to absorb, with many people eating iron-rich foods but still finding that they're iron-deficient (me!). So while my iron intake is just dandy, my body struggles to actually absorb the stuff. For me, that means eating plenty of beef dishes, along with Vitamin-C rich foods to aid absorption.
Why Popeye Got it Wrong
Iron is found in food in two forms, haem and non-haem iron.
- Haem iron, which is very well absorbed by the body. It is highest in red meat such as beef.
- Non-haem iron is less well absorbed. It's mostly found in plant food such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes.
While you may be under the illusion that you can get loads of iron from spinach (like Popeye!), much of the iron is not bioavailable to the body.
So what should you look out for?
Common Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
If you lack energy, you may be low on this essential mineral. I previously put it down to a busy lifestyle, but it’s advisable to see your doc if you suffer from any of the following symptoms:
• Tiredness (even after rest)
• Lack of energy
• Poor concentration
• Frequent infections
• Feeling down
Are you at risk?
Women of childbearing age are at risk of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is more common in women who:
• Are pregnant or breastfeeding
• Have heavy periods
• Don’t eat much meat
PRACTICAL TIPS TO ENSURE YOU GET ENOUGH IRON
Instead of relying on supplements, getting your iron naturally from iron rich foods is a preventative (and much healthier) solution.
Don’t just rely on leafy greens
As I’m all-too familiar, not all iron-rich foods are created equal. Spinach and dark greens are often touted as a rich source of iron. However, for the body to absorb the same amount of iron as from 130g of cooked beef, you’d have to eat 7 cups of spinach. Pretty testing, even by my palate!
Eat red meat
The iron in red meat is the most easily absorbed by the body. If you can eat red meat, it’s interesting to know that beef contains double the iron than in pork, and four times the iron than in chicken.
There is a misconception that red meat is fattening or hard to digest – but beef is actually the most nutrient-rich protein source of all popular proteins. It holds 13 essential nutrients and has less than 4% saturated fat when trimmed (earning it the Heart Foundation tick of approval). The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 130g of cooked red meat such as beef) 3 to 4 times a week.
- Vitamin C can assist your body’s absorption of iron, so have a cup of orange juice or drizzle lemon juice over your meal
- In contrast, drinking a cup of coffee or tea during the meal will actually decrease the amount of iron absorbed by the body
SIMPLE BEEFY MEAL IDEAS:
Meatballs with homemade Passata
Thai Beef Salad
Tex Mex Chilli Bowls
Remember, your body needs all the essential vitamins and minerals to keep functioning at it’s best so that you can be ready to tackle what life throws at you.