Mineral 101: Iron

Lack of iron is common and prominent in the modern day world and can lead to unwanted symptoms or can be quite dangerous in the long term. So why is iron so important?

Iron is primarily used to make new red blood cells (haemoglobin) with the role of transporting oxygen around the body. Additionally, when there is enough haemoglobin a reserve is stored away in preparation for a future need i.e. growth or pregnancy and otherwise maintain hair, skin and nails. Some foods can inhibit absorption and contribute to a deficiency, so to assist greater absorption ensure your diet has a decent vitamin C intake.

If you are experiencing any of the below symptoms frequently or in combination it may be worth going to the doctor to get your blood examined:

  • fatigue/weakness, shortness of breath, paleness
  • tiredness, low concentration, dizziness, headaches
  • restless leg syndrome whilst resting
  • frequent cold intolerance, cold hands and feet

Avoid a deficiency by eating the below food sources. Note, there are two types of iron sources with a noticeable absorption difference:

Haem iron (20% of iron absorbed)

  • seafood: oysters, mussels, clams, salmon
  • chicken liver (high in vitamin A – avoid if pregnant)
  • beef
  • lamb

Non-haem iron (5% of iron absorbed)

  • sunflower seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • nuts: cashews, pine, hazelnut, almonds
  • beans and pulses (white beans, lentils)
  • whole grains (not to be consumed with iron supplements)
  • dark leafy greens
  • dark chocolate
  • tofu (buy without added calcium as calcium intake during a meal inhibits iron absorption)
  • raisins, dates, prunes and figs

If you are vegan or vegetarian your intake of non-haem iron will need to be increased due to the low absorption rate. If you are considering taking supplements first see a doctor as it is possible to have a toxic overdose on iron and cause organ damage.



Why iron and haemoglobin are important. (2012). Australian Red Cross Blood Service. Retrieved from http://www.donateblood.com.au/sites/default/files/Why_iron_and_haemoglobin_are_important_June2012.pdf

Signs of Iron Deficiency. (n.d). Vifor Pharma. Retrieved from  http://irondeficiency.com/patients/other-signs-iron-deficiency-0

Iron. (2013). Better Health Channel. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/iron