MARIKA DAY DIETITIAN & NUTRITIONIST, TALKING ALL THINGS IRON
Marika Day is an Accredited Practising Dietitian & Nutritionist who strongly believes in a holistic approach to nutrition. Marika specialises in nutrition for gut health, in particular Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She has extensive experience in nutrition for women’s health and believes in a holistic approach is key to achieving long term, lasting changes to the way we eat, look and feel.
More than one million Australians are iron deficient or anaemic and this number appears to be on the rise. Iron assists in carrying oxygen throughout your body but also plays a key role in energy production, immune function and DNA synthesis.
Iron is found in the most absorbable form in red meat, so with the recent rise in the popularity of vegan diets and a move towards much more plant based diets for gut health and overall health it is no surprise that this has corresponded with a rise in deficiency. Is this to say we must have red meat to get enough iron? No, but many people, young women in particular, are cutting out red meat and animal products without considering where they will get this essential nutrient from in a plant based diet.
There is no denying that a plant based diet is better for our health and reduced red meat intake is associated with reduced risk of some chronic diseases and cancers, so how can we get enough iron and how much do we actually need?
How much do we need:
As with all nutrients there is individual variability in the amount of iron required for different genders but also at different times of our life. Women in reproductive years have a much higher iron requirement than men due to monthly blood loss through menstruation. This requirement becomes even higher during pregnancy when the mothers blood supply also needs to supply the foetus with nutrition. Below are the current recommended daily intake (RDI) for Iron from the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia & New Zealand.
Women aged 19-50
18mg per day
Men aged 19-50
Where can we get it:
There are two predominant forms of iron in our food haem and non-haem iron. Haem iron referrs to the iron that is found in animal products like red meat, offal, and in smaller amounts in fish and chicken. Haem iron is more easily absorbed (approximately 40% of the iron is absorbed) than non-haem which is why it is the go-to source of iron for many, especially those who have low iron levels or deficency. Non-haem iron on the other hand is found in plants and is often found in larger quantities but is absorbed much more poorly than haem or animal sources of iron. However, do not stress if you are vegetarian or vegan, there are a few strategies you can put into place to help the absorption of iron from your food, which is especially important in those following a plant based diet.
• Consume Vitamin C rich foods with iron rich foods – Vitamin C increases the bioavailability of iron
• Avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals these drinks contain beneficial polyphenols but can inhibit iron absorption by up to 60%. Keep tea and coffee away from meal times.
• If having foods that contain phytate like legumes and nuts (which can decrease iron absorption) be sure to include Vitamin C rich foods to negate the reduced absorption
• Avoid calcium rich foods with iron rich foods – Calcium and iron compete for absorption so having a glass of milk with an iron rich food may reduce the amount of iron you absorb. Keep this in mind if you take calcium supplements too!
Teff Tribe Porridge
2mg per 1/2 cup
1.6mg per 1/4 cup
3.5mg per 100g
A few great Teff Tribe, Iron Rich Meal Ideas
• Teff porridge with almond milk and fresh berries
• Teff grain salad with capsicum, tomatoes and kidney beans
• Teff bliss balls – use dried apricots to sweeten the balls for extra iron and vitamin C