Thousands of New Zealanders don't get enough iron, namely women, particularly those who are pregnant, teenage girls, athletes, toddlers and those eating little or no meat.
The symptoms of iron deficiency are commonly associated with a ‘busy lifestyle’ or ‘a bug’. If you are feeling tired, often irritable, get sick easily, feel the cold or can't concentrate you could be short of iron.
CHOOSE A VARIETY OF FOOD FROM THE FOUR FOOD GROUPS
A sure way to improve your iron intake is to eat a balanced and healthy diet, that has as much variety as possible. Each day it is recommended you enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from the four main foods groups: vegetables and fruit; wholegrains; dairy products; and lean meat, fish, eggs, lentils, beans.
EAT RED MEAT AND VEGETABLES TOGETHER
Red meat invites vegetables to the plate, which makes a winning nutritious combo, optimising the iron uptake from the vegetables and wholegrains. Eating a combination of red meat and plant foods (vegetables, pasta, rice, legumes, fruits) results in a complete meal which provides an array of essential vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre, whilst benefitting gut health. Examples of iron-rich balanced meals include meat and vegetable stir-fry, a mince sauce with pasta and plenty of vegetables, or a lean beef salad sandwich.
GET PLENTY OF VITAMIN C
Vitamin C helps the body to use the iron in plant foods, so include fruit or vegetables with your meals, which are naturally rich in vitamin C, such as capsicum, tomato, broccoli and cabbage to name a few.
The redder the meat, the higher the iron content, so include a variety of meals that include iron-rich beef or lamb 3-4 times per week to boost your iron intake.
BEWARE OF DIETING
Going on restrictive diets which are low calorie or eliminate food groups are put you at risk of missing out on essential nutrients including your iron requirements. Remember, lean beef and lamb are relatively low in calories yet high in iron and can be included in a dietary pattern where weight loss or weight maintenance is desired, particularly as the protein content keeps you full for longer.
KEEP YOUR MEALS TANNIN FREE
It is best to drink tea and coffee between meals, rather than with your main meals. The tannins in tea and coffee reduces the amount of iron we can absorb from food, so you won't get the most nutrition out of your meal. Ideally enjoy tea and coffee 2 hours away from main meals, such as mid morning and mid afternoon.
DON'T RELY ON SUPPLEMENTS
The iron in pills or supplements and fortified foods such as breakfast cereal is poorly absorbed. Don’t rely on these for all of your daily iron needs, and only use supplements if advised by your doctor.
EXTRA IRON FOR EXERCISE
You need extra iron if you exercise strenuously and often. Have your iron levels checked regularly and ensure your diet is balanced and varied, including lots of foods high in haem iron. Iron-rich foods include beef, lamb, kidneys and liver.
BE EXTRA IRON SMART IF YOU'RE AT RISK
Infants, girls and women who have periods, teenagers, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, sports people, vegetarians, vegans and the elderly are most at risk of being iron deficient. Learn how to cook appealing, iron-rich dishes to suit your lifestyle and your family.
EAT LEAN MEAT REGULARLY FOR TOP IRON INTAKE
There are two types of iron in food: haem iron (found in meat and fish) and non-haem iron (found mainly in plants). The body absorbs the haem iron in meat much more efficiently than the non-haem iron in plant foods. For example ¼ cup of cooked silverbeet contains 0.5mg of iron, but the body can only use about 5% of this. In comparison, 120g of cooked lean beef contains an average of 4mg of iron and the body absorbs around 25% of it. You would need to eat a massive 1kg of cooked silverbeet to get the same amount of iron provided by just 120g of lean meat in a small serving of spaghetti bolognaise or a couple of small lamb leg steaks. This emphasises a variety of both animal and plant foods, as per our national dietary guidelines, contribute to overall iron intake.
TRY THESE IRON-RICH RECIPES: