Iron is one of those minerals that some people just have a hard enough time getting enough of, especially if you are following a vegan or vegetarian way of eating. Irons’ main role in the body is to help us make red blood cells, which in turn help carry oxygen to our cells. The haemoglobin is a protein which gives the red blood cells their colour and is also a place where iron is stored. Iron can also be stored in the muscles. But I have to say that Popeye was wrong, iron won’t help you build muscles ;)
When our stores of iron become too low; either by blood loss, medications, low iron in the diet and/or issues absorbing iron we can become iron deficient or even anemic. Iron deficiency is actually quite common around the world. Common symptoms of iron deficiency can be paleness, fatigue and short of breath. There have also been many studies showing a link between low iron and mental health issues such as low mood. A simple blood test can be done in order to determine where your iron levels are compared to the normal range.
How much do you need? Well, it depend on if you are male or female, pregnant and even your age. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan way of eating you will need to increase your intake by almost double. This is because the type of iron found in plant based foods doesn’t absorb as well in the body. There are two types of iron, heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron can be found mostly in animal products, whereas non-heme can be found mostly in plant based foods. To help the absorption of the iron in foods, pair it with something rich in vitamin C, like fruits or vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers! Tea and calcium can both interfere with how the body absorbs iron, so try your best to not always have them with meals rich in iron.
One might think that I would recommend beef as the best source of iron in foods, but honestly, seafood can also be a great source. Such as oysters! These babies can give you from 3-9 mg per serving! I never used to like oysters, but I have definitely grown to love them! Other options would be organ meats (not recommended on a frequent basis), other seafood and fish options and of course beef. For plant based sources, you are looking for soybeans and other pulses, nuts and seeds (like pumpkin seeds) and eggs!
If you are generally tired and your sleep seems to be ok, maybe you should question where your iron level is at and consider adding some iron rich foods to your diet :)
I work as a Dietitian and definitely walk the talk. I love to cook and help people get back to being healthy again.