Research has showed that just over half of UK teenage girls were not getting enough iron. Women need almost one and a half times the daily iron in their diets that men need.
A lack of iron can stop you making enough haemoglobin; this is what your body uses to carry oxygen around your body. Signs that you don’t have enough iron include feeling very tired, being irritable, having poor concentration, dizziness or fainting. Not a good recipe for those doing exams. So how can you make sure that your teenager is getting enough iron in the food they are eating?
It’s not just the quantity of iron rich food you eat but also about the quality of the iron you are eating.
‘Honours’ level iron or Haem iron is found in red meats. This iron is package and ready for your body to absorb; eating some red meat most days will make sure that your iron levels remain within a healthy range.
‘Ordinary’ level iron or Non-Haem iron is found in a range of foods, but typically in more plant based foods. This iron your body finds a little more difficult to absorb. Vitamin C foods when eaten with foods containing non-Haem iron help maximise how much of the iron your body absorbs.
Good sources of iron:
Honours level – Heam iron
Beef, lamb, chicken, pork, oily fish, liver* and offal*
(*pregnant women should avoid liver and other offal products as they contain high levels of vitamin A)
Ordinary level – non haem iron
Fortified foods like breakfast cereals, bread. Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, cabbage. Peas, beans, lentils, egg yolks and nuts
So it is best to include some red meat in your diet, but if you choose not to eat meat all is not lost, a well planned vegetarian diet can still have enough iron in it to prevent iron deficiency anaemia. But keep in mind:
Vitamin C rich foods help the absorption of iron from plants – so it is good to have a drink of orange juice or a piece of fruit with your meals
Watch out for tea, coffee or cola drinks which may limit how well you absorb that iron. The best advice is to have these drinks in between your meal rather than with your meal.
Eating foods with a little red meat also seems to help with the absorption (although this is not an option for the vegetarians!)
If you suspect you might be anaemic, please talk to your GP, as he may have to prescribe you an iron supplement to initially increase your iron levels. However by regularly eating enough iron in your diet this will hopefully prevent you from getting anaemia.
For more information on any of the issues discussed above or for more information on diet and nutrition, please contact Maria at The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster on (044) 9395518 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.