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Iron is a vital mineral naturally present in many foods.  It is required for a wide range of bodily functions but is best known for its role in red blood cells which are used to transport oxygen around the body. Adequate iron intake is also important for maintaining a strong immune system, and assisting with growth and development.



People of different ages and gender have different requirements for iron, however according to the Nutrient Reference Values it is recommended that adult men and post menopausal women consume 8mg per day. Women who are menstruating require an increased amount of 18mg per day as iron is lost each month during menstrual bleeding. The daily requirements for iron are increased again during pregnancy and breast feeding.



There are two types of dietary iron: haem and non-haem. Haem iron is found in animal foods such as red meat, poultry and fish, while non-haem iron is the form found in plants and fortified foods. Haem iron is well absorbed by the body whereas non-haem iron needs the assistance of vitamin C to help it to be absorbed. Non-haem iron is found in a wide range of food sources such as legumes (such as soybeans, chick peas or kidney beans), vegetables (especially dark leafy greens such as kale or broccoli), whole-grains (such as brown rice or multigrain bread) and seeds. The best way to meet your iron requirements is to consume a wide range of nutritious foods including meat or meat alternatives, whole-grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and healthy oils.



Inadequate iron intake can lead to the development of iron-deficiency anaemia. It is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide and if not treated, it can cause a number of symptoms such as fatigue and a decreased resistance to infection. People at high risk of iron deficiency include adolescent girls due to menstruation, pregnant women because of their higher iron needs, athletes as a result of losing iron through sweat and vegetarians as they are consuming only non-haem iron found in plant foods. If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency it is important that you determine the cause of the deficiency without purely treating the symptoms as it could be caused by a disease or internal bleed.



An overconsumption of iron may lead to constipation, black stools and/or gastrointestinal upset. Too much iron can also compete with other important minerals and reduce the body’s absorption of them. Hemochromatosis is a common genetic condition which causes the body to absorb and store too much iron. Common symptoms include fatigue, weakness and joint pain. If not managed correctly hemochromatosis can lead to organ damage, and even early death. People with hemochromatosis need to monitor their intake of iron and ensure that they don’t over consume it.



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Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.





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