What is iron?
Iron is an essential mineral. It has several important roles in the body. One of its main functions is to help make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. If you don’t have enough iron to make healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, you can suffer from iron-deficiency anaemia.
Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair and nails.
How much iron should we consume daily?
- Age 7–12 months – 11mg
- Age 1–4 – 7mg
- Age 4–8 – 10mg
- Age 9–13 – 8mg
- Teenage boys – 11mg
- Teenage girls – 15mg
- Age 19–50, women – 18mg
- Pregnant women – 27mg
- After menopause, women’s intake requirement reduces to the same as men’s
- Age 19–50, men – 8mg
There are times when you may need more iron. These include if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have kidney failure or a gastrointestinal disorder, are suffering from ulcers or take too many antacids, or if you work out vigorously.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, you may need to consider taking an iron supplement.
You can get your iron levels checked with a simple blood test. One telltale sign of iron deficiency is fatigue.
Adding more iron to your diet
Iron deficiency is the most common form of nutritional deficiency, especially amongst children and pregnant women. To ensure you get enough iron, here are some guidelines:
- Although you will get iron from both raw and cooked spinach, the cooked spinach helps your body absorb the nutrients more efficiently. One cup of cooked spinach contains 6mg of iron
- Beans of all varieties provide approximately 3–6mg of iron per cup. Pair these with vegetables rich in vitamin C, such as peppers, kale, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, as this vitamin helps your body absorb the iron
- Look for cereals fortified with iron. Check the amounts on the nutrition labels. There are enriched cereals that contain 4mg up to 18mg of iron per serving
- Sunflower seeds make a great snack and they are an easy addition to a variety of dishes. One cup of seeds contains 2mg of iron
- For those who like oysters, just one oyster delivers 3–5mg of iron. Have a few of these and you will have surpassed your daily requirement
NB: If you need to take iron supplements, keep them out of reach of children as very high doses of iron can be fatal.