Iron plays a very important role in our body as it helps transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is essential for the body as it also helps produce energy, helps in growth and development, hormone synthesis and to maintain a healthy immune system.
There are many foods that are rich in iron, which should be an essential part of our daily diet. These foods include:
- Lean red meat.
- Lentils and beans.
- Dried fruits such as prunes or figs.
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, asparagus, watercress and parsley.
There are two types of iron:
- Heme iron which contains haemoglobin, and is found in animal food such as meat, fish and poultry.
- Non-heme iron which comes from plant food. Non-heme iron is the type that is added to food that is fortified or enriched with iron. This type of iron is absorbed less efficiently by the body.
When you don’t have enough iron in your body it can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which affects many people around the world. If you have iron deficiency anaemia, you could have any or all of the following symptoms:
- Severe fatigue.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Shortness of breath.
Children, teenagers and women of reproductive age are more prone to iron deficiency anaemia because their intake of iron is insufficient to meet the body’s demand for it. Vegetarians are also at a high risk because they don’t consume any heme iron, and non-heme iron which they do consume is not absorbed well by the body.
Certain food types can enhance iron absorption in your body. These include:
- Food rich in Vitamin C – Vitamin C captures non-heme iron and saves it in a form that can be easily absorbed by the body. Eating food rich in Vitamin C together with high iron food will increase iron absorption in your body. Food rich in Vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits.
- Dark green leafy vegetables.
- Bell peppers.
- Foods rich in Vitamin A and Beta Carotene – Beta carotene is found in various plants and fruits and convert to Vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A is important to enhance your immune system, for bone growth and better vision. Studies show that food rich in Vitamin A and Beta Carotene increase iron absorption by a huge percentage. Food rich in these include:
- Red pepper.
- Meat, fish and poultry – These meats provide essential heme iron to the body, as well as increase iron absorption.
There are also certain food types that can reduce iron absorption. Food types that inhibit iron absorption in the body are:
- Food containing Phytic Acid – Food containing phytic acid includes cereals, whole grains, soy, nuts and legumes.
- Calcium rich food – Although calcium is vital for healthy bones, studies have shown hat it hinders iron absorption. Hence, calcium rich foods should not be consumed together with iron rich foods.
- Polyphenols – Food that contains polyphenols include tea, coffee, wine, cereals and certain fruits and vegetables. It is best to leave a few hours between eating iron rich foods and those that contain polyphenols.
If iron deficiency anaemia is very severe, doctors may be compelled to resort to drastic treatments rather than the more common iron supplements, such as:
- Iron infusion – Directly administering iron into the blood intravenously. Many clinics have iron infusion treatment in Mt. Gravatt and other areas, and a doctor will recommend it if they think that your condition is severe.
- Blood transfusion – Transfusion of red blood cells into a body is done if there is an urgent need to increase the red blood cell count in someone who has iron deficiency anaemia.
- Surgery – Surgery may be required in a patient who has internal bleeding in order to stop the blood loss.
Excessive doses of iron can also be deadly, although it rarely happens with consuming iron rich food. However, it can occur with iron supplements, those who have hemochromatosis and those who get regular blood transfusions. If you think you are suffering from iron deficiency anaemia, always consult a doctor before getting any treatment done, or before you consider iron infusion treatment in Mt Gravatt or at another clinic.