Oh... the irony
Iron is one of those Goldilocks micronutrients - we have to be careful to not get too much or too little, but to get it just right!
Iron is a component of haemoglobin which transports oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the cells. If you are low in iron you can’t make enough red blood cells and might not be getting all the oxygen and nutrients you need to all the parts of your body.
There are two types of dietary iron: haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is present in meat and is more readily absorbed than non-haem iron which is found in plant based foods. Non-haem iron needs to be converted in the gut before it can be absorbed into the body.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include pale skin, fatigue, sensitivity to cold and nausea, however, these symptoms are not just linked to low iron. It is important to get iron levels checked before supplementing, as there are other reasons why you might be experiencing these symptoms, such as low vitamin B12 or folate. Menstruating women are at higher risk of becoming iron-deficiency due to their monthly blood loss.
Too much iron is not a good thing either, and can be caused by certain medical conditions, using iron cookware or consuming too many iron supplements. Symptoms of excess iron include nausea, stomach pain and constipation.
Most people should be able to get all the iron they need from their diet and should only supplement if advised by their doctor. Iron is found in red meat and liver. Plant-based sources of iron include spinach, chickpeas, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, prunes, parsley and watercress. To help with the absorption of iron from plant foods, it is advised to have vitamin C with your iron. So, you might have a chickpea salad with some red pepper in, or a tofu stir-fry containing lots of vegetables.
The tannins in tea can reduce iron absorption, so if you are low in iron it is recommended to drink your cuppa at a different time to your iron-rich foods.