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The Importance of Iron in the Diet


Iron is an important nutrient in a diet that keeps the body healthy. Iron is also needed for the formation of healthy blood. A diet low in iron leads to iron deficiency i.e. anaemia







Dietary recommendations

  • Iron is best absorbed in the presence of vitamin C (ascorbic acid).
  • Include foods rich in vitamin C (oranges, grapefruit, guavas, tomatoes, citrus fruit, pawpaw, kiwi fruit, fresh vegetables and salads and other fruit) at each meal.
  • Avoid drinking tea, coffee, hot chocolate and caffeine containing cool drinks (colas) with meals as it decreases the amount of iron that the body can absorb.
  • Avoid taking antacids as it will also decrease iron absorption.
  • Avoid drinking excessive milk with meals.
  • Improve food choices to increase amount of dietary iron.

If iron supplements have been recommended:

  • Have supplements between meals together with foods rich in vitamin C or a vitamin C supplement.
  • Do not take supplements with tea, milk, coffee or antacids.
  • Do not stop the iron supplements because you are feeling better, unless you have been told to so by your health practitioner or dietician

Causes of iron deficiency anaemia

  • Not eating enough of the foods that contain iron.
  • Chronic blood loss e.g. bleeding ulcer, bleeding haemorrhoids, parasites (hookworms etc.), malignancy or excessive menstrual flow
  • Increased need by the body for iron e.g. during infancy, childhood (important growing years), puberty, pregnancy and when lactating (breast feeding)
  • Less iron being absorbed by the body

Symptoms of iron deficiency

  • tiredness & headaches
  • brittle nails and hair
  • breathlessness
  • poor appetite, poor growth and weight gain
  • weakness
  • lack of concentration

Foods rich in iron

Animal Sources: liver, kidney, chicken and turkey, tripe, shellfish, lean meat, fish (tinned, fresh or frozen) 

Non-Animal Sources: dried fruit, nuts, molasses, wholegrain breads, dried beans and lentils, green leafy vegetables, cereals and iron-fortified cereals.

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